Evaluation, complexity, uncertainty: theories of change and some alternatives.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Certain ways of planning and evaluating social development currently dominate in
the international aid sector. Using abstract and simplified logical schemata, these
methods simplify distant complexity to enable bureaucracies to ‘see like a state’.
Development interventions aligned with managerial requirements support the idea
that social development can be engineered. Quantifiable techniques readily enable
global aggregation and un-nuanced statements about the ‘success’ of interventions
suiting a marketized development domain. Moral rhetoric about ‘transparency’,
‘accountability’, and ‘value for money’ often accompanies the appeal to rational
abstraction and logical consistency. As an alternative I draw on the complexity
sciences to explore why the future is radically unpredictable. I look at how insights
from the complexity sciences are or are not taken up in evaluation methods. Without
developing ways of engaging with the contextual, the particular, and the dynamic
nature of social development, we risk covering over important relationships of power,
compromising the ability to treat counterparts as moral equivalents.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAid, NGOs and the Realities of Women's Lives: A Perfect Storm
EditorsTina Wallace, Fenella Porter, Mark Ralph-Bowman
Place of PublicationRugby
PublisherPractical Action Publishing
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Evaluation
  • complexity
  • Uncertainty
  • international development


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