Yesterday I attended the live webinar on ‘Systems Thinking for Equity-focused Evaluation’ organized by UNICEF, UNWOMEN, the Rockefeller Foundation and a bunch of other organisations and institutes that together formed MY M&E (a really awesome and informative website with all you ever wanted to know about
monitoring and evaluation).
Yesterday’s seminar is just one of the very many webinars they organize on evaluation (there are series of webinars on equity focussed evaluations, on emerging practices in development evaluation, on developing capacities for country-led M&E systems, on country-led M&E systems, etc). Every other week or so you can attend -for free- lectures delivered by top-notch evaluators and methodologists like Michael Quinn Patton, Patricia Rogers, Bob Williams, Martin Reynolds, etc., and theoretically debate with them! Yes, we live in a world of wonders!
Yesterday both Bob Willliams and Martin Reynolds, both reknowned system thinkers/ evaluators, gave short introductions on ‘Systems thinking for Equity-focused Evaluations’ for a global interactive classroom of nearly 100 participants. Bob Williams briefly explained the key principles of ‘thinking systematically’: Inter-relationships, perspectives and boundaries. These are the three principles many methods from the ‘system field’ have in common (Williams claimed there were about 1200-1300 methods in the system field!). Martin Reynolds dived into the cross-road between equity focused evaluation and one of the system methods: Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH).
Although Martin Reynolds presentation looked rather impressive, the complexity of his story combined with some technical disturbances, made his lecture hard to follow and understand. There was one topic though that strongly made my ears wide open! He was talking about steps in CSH, starting with a ‘Making an Ideal Mapping of ‘Ought’ (sounds like a fairytale), followed by a Descriptive mapping comparing ‘Is’ with ‘Ought’, and other steps. This ‘Ideal Mapping of ‘Ought” is placed at the beginning of the whole exercise to provoke ‘blue sky thinking’ and letting people realize that reality is constructed, and can be re-constructed if we really want.
Why is this remark raising my interest? Well, if you have followed my earlier blogs, my queste is very much ‘How can evaluation contribute to re-construction? Or with other words, how could evaluation contribute to ‘system change”. Bob Williams commented on Reynolds saying that it made him think very much of organisational development and ‘vision’ building, and that is certainly true as well.
And all that brings me again to my eternal question: ‘How does system thinking contribute to evaluation practice?’ Are it the new clothes of the emperor, or can it really contribute something solid? Again, I come to the conclusion it is not so much about the tools and instruments from the systems field itself, but about the way of thinking. Think big, act small, and see our world as one big construction site, taking nothing for granted, and challenge the existing rules of the game. Let evaluation (either with or without system thinking) help us in contributing to the transformation of this world!
Next week, 22 november Particia Rogers will provide a lecture and on 6 December 2011 it is Michael Quinn Patton’s turn! You are strongly advised to join!