By Dione Hills, 8th March 2019
The field of complexity related research is growing apace, and CECAN has been at the forefront of exploring how research methods from this field can be incorporated into evaluation practice (given sufficient resources, expertise and willingness on the part of evaluation funders!). However, what has not yet been explored in depth, is the question of how evaluation differs from other kinds of research, and what implications, if any, this has for the adoption of complex appropriate research methods within an evaluation context.
There is clearly much overlap - evaluations make extensive use of a wide range of research methods, and research studies often contain a strong ‘evaluative’ element. However, evaluations are commissioned in order to gather feedback on particular intervention, usually for the purposes of accountability - or learning - rather than for a primary purpose of generating new knowledge. Ideally, therefore, evaluations incorporate an element of ‘evaluative thinking’, and address the ‘valuing’ aspects of evaluation; i.e. the ascription of merit, worth, significance or importance to that which is being studied.
Anyone interested in exploring this topic further may find the recent American Evaluation Association publication on the topic of ‘Evaluative Thinking’ useful: Evaluation Thinking: New Directions for Evaluation, Volume 2018, Issue 158, Summer 2018. Wiley. Or you can read a short summary of some of the main points covered, in relation to undertaking complex evaluations – in my recent blog.