Predictability and certainty are hallmarks of traditional evaluation, especially at the program level. We used to believe that we should be able to predict, produce, and evaluate outcomes for all funded programs. Today, exceptions to this rule of predict-and-control are all too familiar. Nonprofit and philanthropic sectors tackle increasingly complex, systemic challenges, where predictability is limited.
Many available options aim to support credible evaluation in complex contexts, including developmental evaluation, outcomes harvesting, and contribution analysis. These approaches are effective, but they may require clients to rethink their evaluation approach. Some clients are not always ready.
In this session, we offered an alternative. We suggested that when evaluators understand the sources of uncertainty in a complex system, they can adapt their evaluation approaches to be more sensitive to complex dynamics, without introducing an entirely new or radical evaluation strategy. In this session, we:
- introduced five sources of uncertainty in complex environments
- explored, with participants, situations where each source might affect the evaluation
- identified evaluation adaptations to accommodate uncertainty as it arose
Glenda Eoyang and Judy Oakden presented this session at the American Evaluation Association Conference in Minneapolis.