Centre for System Design
Te Whaitua Whakāhua Pūnaha

Evaluation of System Change

Evaluating systems level change is more complex than evaluating a programme. Programme evaluation typically involves understanding the effects on people. System level change involves a complex set of elements interacting at multiple scales, involving people with multiple agendas so, if we wish to understand it, we need to look beyond the details of individual cases and develop an understanding of the underlying system structure driving those interactions.

Understanding system change is challenging when drawing on traditional evaluation methods and concepts. Programme logic models, for example, focus on a causal chain of events giving little room for nonlinear feedback, the contribution of the system or the social network effects that may be critical to the success of any initiative. The need to move beyond specific programmes and services to focus on changing the systems and structures that underpin the challenges society currently faces is being increasingly recognised. For example, social isolation is commonly associated with elevated risk of victimization, but social isolation is also associated with marginalization of social groups due to discrimination and stigma. Victimization at one stage can also lead to crossover effects of future aggression, and untreated trauma associated with victimization is frequently associated with negative coping skills (e.g., self-medication through alcohol or drug abuse) that increases future risk of victimization. These complex interactions like these often make it difficult to attribute the causes of the behaviour we see, which in turn can lead to difficulties in evaluation. This requires evaluation to think differently about the tools and approaches its uses to understand change.

Synergia’s work in evaluating systems change brings together our experience in evaluation with our systems thinking expertise to provide insight into changes that go beyond any individual programme to the broader systems changes that are being sought.

For more about Evaluating System Change contact:
Dr Sarah Appleton (sarah.appleton@synergia.co.nz)