Dealing with complex change in evaluation

Glenda Eoyang, the Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) Institute founder and Judy Oakden, Director of Pragmatica, recently ran a half-day workshop at the ANZEA conference. What set the workshop apart was that Glenda led the session via Zoom from Minneapolis, US, while Judy ran the session in the room in Auckland.

The HSD Institute’s depth of experience delivering training globally, both in person and remotely, made this session possible. In addition, the technology was surprisingly easy to set up, and participants said it worked well. For instance, Glenda made herself available during the breaks so participants could talk with her one-on-one using an iPad. Thus, participants could have private conversations with an internationally recognised expert in complexity thinking.

The workshop started with Glenda describing some of the different changes we are seeing. She described ideas such as “fuzzy boundaries”, “fast feedback loops”, and “decreasing resources”, while Judy provided relevant New Zealand examples.

The session then covered how seeing patterns rather than problems might be a more helpful way to frame the challenges we face. Participants:

  • used some of the Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) tools and techniques to explore and reframe their stubborn issues
  • reflected on how they think change happens
  • considered how they might influence change
  • focused on how to deal with complex changes in evaluation.

We identified the HSD friendly evaluation methods, including Developmental Evaluation, Adaptive Evaluation, Realist Evaluation and Action Research. 

Glenda encouraged participants to use HSD approaches to support their work regardless of their style of evaluation. She suggested:

  • planning lightly
  • welcoming surprises
  • watching for interactions between different levels of the system
  • staying curious
  • looking for what is both true and useful
  • and being joyful in our work.

Participants liked the workshop and rated the value for money of this workshop 4.6 out of 5 (with 5 being the most favourable rating). Comments included a “wonderful mix of theory and practice” and “a whole set of new tools and clues for me!”

Participants said the mixed-mode presentation “worked better than I would have expected with the second presenter linking in digitally”.