CECAN contributes to Norway Anniversary Evaluation Conference

Norway Anniversary Evaluation Conference

By Dione Hills, Principal Researcher Consultant (The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations) 

7th October 2019  


Picking up on the CECAN webinar last year on the topic ‘How to evaluate – or commission – an evaluation when everything is messy’, Dione Hills (Tavistock Institute and CECAN Associate) was asked to give a key note speech last month at the Norwegian Evaluation Conference. The conference celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Norwegian government evaluation network, and the 10th anniversary of the Norwegian Evaluation Association, and provided the opportunity for evaluators and commissioners in Norway to reflect on what they have learned over the last few years, and what new challenges lie ahead.


Complexity and Evaluation Failure

Complexity and Evaluation Failure


By Dione Hills, Principal Researcher Consultant (The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations) 

24th July 2019   


Why complex evaluations fail: 

People attending CECAN trainings and events often want to hear about evaluations that ‘failed’ because the wrong (i.e. not complexity appropriate) methods or approach were used. Providing such examples is not easy: accounts of evaluations that ‘fail’ are rarely published, and when we have examples from our own practice, confidentiality – or embarrassment – can make it hard to talk about these in public. 


Slipping into simplicity

Slipping into Simplicity

By Pete Barbrook-Johnson, (UKRI Innovation Fellow and Research Fellow, University of Surrey, @bapeterj) and Alexandra Penn (Senior Research Fellow, University of Surrey, @DrAlexPenn)

24th June 2019   


We and our colleagues often talk a good game when it comes to complexity. We want to understand nuance and context, and we know things are messier than we realise. Yet, we still struggle to grapple with complex issues and can feel frustrated with our lack of progress, or others’ seemingly foggy thinking. We groan as we think we see yet another slick report, high-profile journal article, or politician, being openly simple and linear in their thinking, and proud of it too! 


How to evaluate complex research impact

How to evaluate complex research impact

From '' 18th April 2019

By Pete Barbrook-Johnson, Innovation Fellow (Research Fellow) (University of Surrey) 


We know research impact unfolds in complex and unpredictable ways, so how on earth do we learn from and evaluate it? In this blog, I will take a look at some of the approaches we have been developing and using in CECAN - a research centre set up to tackle the issue of complexity in evaluation. I will explain how you can use these approaches to do a quick and effective evaluation of complex research impacts, helping you understand what works and why. 


Complexity and Evaluative Thinking

Complexity & Evaluative Thinking

By Dione Hills, CECAN Fellow (evaluating the ‘capacity building’ side of CECAN’s work) 

21st January 2019


There has recently been an upsurge of interest in what constitutes ‘Evaluative Thinking’ (ET). One frequently quoted definition of this term (Buckley 2015) refers to ET being “critical thinking applied to contexts of evaluation”[i]. This blog reflects on ways in which ‘evaluative thinking’ and the application of an understanding of complexity to evaluation can be mutually supportive. It also considers ways in which a complexity perspective may need to be enhanced in order to promote true ‘evaluative thinking’.


A recent issue of New Directions for Evaluation(Official Journal of the American Evaluation Association)[ii]brought together a number of papers on this topic. An interesting theme running through these papers (of particularly relevance to those of us involved in CECAN activities) is that evaluative thinking can help evaluators (and their clients) think more clearly about complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity. 

What has economic pluralism got to do with understanding complexity?

PEP Logo

By Teresa Linzner, Research and Communications Officer, Promoting Economic Pluralism

17th December 2018


Please note, the views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CECAN.


To understand the complex systems we inhabit, surely, we must recognise a plurality of perspectives. After all everyone gets a different view. However mainstream economists, the dominant social scientists, only accept one perspective on how economies work drowning out others. Unless this is challenged, new understandings of complex systems will remain marginalised in policy and practice. Outside the mainstream, though, there are many around the world who understand the importance of plural perspectives in economics. Join us in working with them to raise their legitimacy and profile.


The Story of the Pluralistic Evaluation Framework

Pluralistic Framework

By Richard Gunton, CECAN Fellow

19th November 2018


The pluralistic evaluation framework is a new tool for policymakers that has gradually taken shape during the last 12 months of my CECAN fellowship. It is now ready to be presented at a webinar on 20 November, where I will be explaining the rationale in the space of 45 minutes. Here I want to share a little of the journey that it has been on, building on what I wrote here last January and June


Power and Hope: Using Evaluation in Volatile Contexts


By Caroline Oliver, Reader in Sociology, Roehampton University and Research Affiliate at the Centre on Migration, Policy & Society, University of Oxford

24th October 2018


As a social scientist, I find myself increasingly caught up in the ‘impact’ agenda, since universities are audited in the Research Excellence Framework on how the work of researchers has economic and social benefits. While there is merit in looking critically at this agenda (Holmwood 2011) it also provokes researchers to actively imagine a role for the social sciences in influencing social policy and practice, informing social reform through using robust evidence and social theory (Pawson 2000; Reed and Chubb 2018). The need for this is great; as Brian Castellani put it in his recent blog, we are witnessing an increasingly widespread ‘culture of cruelty’ and backlash against the establishment of a more just and equitable civil society. Engaged governance and just social policies become important means of challenging negative psychologies based on escalating fears, conflicts and resentments, while knowledge from research and evaluation provides vital ingredients in the search for something different.


The Nexus: A New Approach to Sustainability Transformations – What, Why and How

Pollution photo

By Adam Hejnowicz (CECAN, University of York), Pete Barbrook-Johnson (CECAN, University of Surrey), Kirsty Blackstock (The James Hutton Institute), and Chad Staddon (University of West England).

12th September 2018

This blog reports on recent presentations and discussions held at the Royal Geographical Society annual conference in Cardiff, at a special session on adaptive management and governance of the food-energy-water-environment nexus. The session was jointly organised by researchers from CECAN and the James Hutton Institute.


What is a Nexus Approach?