As a researcher and consultant, I found myself using the Principles for Effective Use of Systems Thinking in Evaluation in both the evaluation and research arenas as well as the design and development of initiatives. In these four arenas, I found different processes or activities where the principles have strengthened my practice.
Hot Tip: Principles as a tool to leverage stakeholder engagement
You may have experienced push-back, skepticism, or concerns from stakeholders when infusing systems approaches into program design or evaluation. To many, systems thinking sounds too complicated, too expensive, and too risky. While we may believe that systems thinking brings depth and transforms the results of programs where it is properly applied, it is also our role as advocates and trainers to engage stakeholders’ beliefs in the power of systems thinking. I have found the Principles to be very helpful in showcasing what it means to bring a systems approach to design and evaluation of initiatives. They are framed in a way that balances rigor with practical language that is easy for stakeholders to understand and relate to.
Hot Tip: Principles as a guide for evaluator practice and self-assessment
The Principles lay out the links between fundamental systems thinking concepts and evaluation. In this way, they provide meaningful guidance to steer our own practice. In respect to this guidance function, I would like to reflect on the value of the Principles for guiding evaluator practice in two important areas:
- Self-reflection and self-evaluation: The level of specificity and granularity in tasks and approaches as defined by the Principles helps us as practitioners revise our own understanding of what it means to bring a systems perspective to our work. Thus, it helps us assess to what extent, in which ways, and with what consequences, we are being true to a systems thinking approach.
- Transparency: Using the Principles to engage in critical self-assessment around the use of a systems lens can help us to clearly communicate and highlight which concepts or principles are being addressed and in what way – for example, which are stronger and which are weaker in a specific instance, why that is the case, and with what consequences and limitations.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating this week with our colleagues in the Systems in Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from SETIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.