The EEN Morning Show – Navigating Complexity in Our Work


Mel Mark (Host), Penn State University; Jonny Morell, Fulcrum Corporation; Juha Uitto, UNDP; Beverly Parsons, InSites


In an era of accountability and effectiveness, funders of environmental programs and recipients of those funds need to know what works, what does not work, and why. As evaluators, we need to provide that knowledge. We need to do so with good methodology and with effective ways to disseminate our findings, promote understanding, and support decision making.

As evaluators we need to know and we need to teach, but we are challenged by the uncertainties, interdependencies and feedback loops that characterize the social and environmental systems in which we work. In short, the world is complex and our evaluation does not adequately face that reality.

“Complexity” may be understood in its formal sense as a science, or intuitively to connote “complicated, many interacting parts, change over time, and hard to understand”. Whichever meaning we choose, current evaluation practice does not fully embrace the implications for methodology, information use, or stakeholder engagement. Approaches for navigating complexity are available to evaluators, but we rarely apply them in our work. As a result, much of our work is better suited to bounded, predictable interventions rather than to our stakeholders’ real-life programs and policies.

What are the risks of this mismatch between our practice and our clients’ needs? How can we navigate the complexity of our social, environmental and other systems to better measure, evaluate and systematically improve? Can an active approach to ‘navigating complexity’ help us better meet the demands for accessible, useful and credible evidence of program and policy effectiveness? In answering these questions, panelists will kick off the learning and networking of the 2011 EEN Forum with discussions of their experience and personal approaches to navigating complexity in our work.

Presentation Materials

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