By Corinna Elsenbroich, CECAN Research Fellow
CECAN develops, tests and enhances methods to deal with complexity in policy evaluation, trying to advance research, policy and evaluation practice. To ensure that these methods will influence an ever widening audience, CECAN has now launched a syllabus for building capacity and supporting the application of complexity sensitive evaluation nationally and internationally.
The syllabus outlines some of the strategies, approaches and methods that an evaluator or evaluation commissioner might want to use to tackle the challenges of complexity in social science and policy evaluation. It covers conceptual and theoretical aspects of complexity in social science, practical aspects of complexity in policy evaluation and methodologies that can tackle complexity in social systems, focussing in particular on complex causality, emergence and feedback loops.
It is divided into 10 sessions, detailing learning outcomes, exercises and essential and additional readings. Session 1, Introduction and Motivation, contains a general outline to the course, including an introduction to a common terminology. Session 2, Complexity and the Social Sciences, looks at the conceptualisation of societies as complex systems. Session 3, Policy Research and Evaluation, hones in on challenges of complexity in the policy domain. Session 4, Evaluating Change and Continuity, tackles the assessment of change as one of the most fundamental aspects of evaluation research. Session 5, Evaluation and Methodological Challenges, is the first of four methodological sessions, providing a motivation for methodological innovation. Session 6 covers Qualitative Comparative Analysis, a quali-quantitative method for the establishment of causality for small sample sizes. Session 7, Systems Mapping, introduces a highly participatory method for systematically eliciting expert knowledge. Session 8, Agent-based Modelling, introduces a method of computer simulation in the social sciences for modelling complexity. Session 9 Working through Examples, focuses on the application of the methods to policy examples. Finally, Session 10, The Future of Evaluation, points to where evaluation research is likely to go in the future.
We hope it will inspire some of those teaching evaluation research or more generally social science methods to take a more complexity sensitive perspective. It can be used as a postgraduate module over a term, requiring about 2 hours for each session. The course could also be done as a short course or summer school or it could be used in a more modular way, selecting sessions to integrate into existing modules on evaluation research or research methods. We would love to hear from you if you use (any part of) the syllabus in your teaching.