Systemic Design Thinking for Evaluation of Social Innovations: a PD for Intermediate and Advanced Evaluators by Jan Noga

Hi! My name is Jan Noga and I am the owner of Pathfinder Evaluation and Consulting in Cincinnati, Ohio. Like many of you, I’m always on the lookout for good PD opportunities. Yet, as an advanced evaluator, I struggle to find PDs that are designed for my level of practice. Well, I’m here to share information about an AEA-sponsored PD that I will be offering this December titled Systemic Design Thinking for Evaluation of Social Innovations that was specifically designed with intermediate and advanced practitioners in mind.

What is Systemic Design Thinking? Systemic design thinking integrates systems thinking and its methods with design theory, particularly human-centered design, for application to complex, multi-stakeholder service systems.

Why Does That Matter? In terms of social innovation, we are at a juncture for both program design and evaluation that has us questioning historical conventions around social change. There are numerous programs implemented each year. Yet, conditions keep worsening. It’s a little like using a pebble to plug a breach in a dam. Social innovators and program designers are recognizing that conventional thinking for program design cannot properly address issues of complexity, wickedness, social justice, inclusion, and oppression. Systemic design thinking is one of the methods they are turning to.

Why is This Important to Evaluation? As program design shifts to embrace systems notions of complexity, interconnectedness, non-linearity, and the importance of context, then so must evaluation. Systemic design thinking for evaluation looks beyond models and methods of prediction, linearity, and control to approaches that examine how social innovations, both as part of a larger system and systems in their own right, develop as organic responses to a social need with a focus on designs that help stakeholders understand what and why something is happening, where change opportunities exist, and how to make adaptive adjustments as the innovation evolves.

Rad Resources

  • I’m hosting a workshop on Systemic Design Thinking for AEA. In it, we’ll cover the basics of systems thinking and systemic design thinking. We’ll talk about designing for social innovation and evaluation using systemic design thinking. Then we’ll practice using a real-life example of social innovation. You can find out more, and register, here:
  • The Systemic Design Association ( Community of designers and scholars leading emerging practices, design-led systems research, and advanced design methods evolving from systems thinking and design
  • Annual symposium ( addressing specific themes relating systems thinking and design
  • Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh: Describes a four-stage process for integrating systems thinking in problem solving, decision making, strategic planning, and evaluation for social change

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