University of Hertfordshire

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Complex, but not quite complex enough: The turn to the complexity sciences in evaluation scholarship

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-175
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2014


This article offers a critical review of the way in which some scholars have taken up the complexity sciences in evaluation scholarship. I argue that there is a tendency either to over-claim or under-claim their importance because scholars are not always careful about which of the manifestations of the complexity sciences they are appealing to, nor do they demonstrate how they understand them in social terms. The effect is to render ‘complexity’ just another volitional tool in the evaluator’s toolbox subsumed under the dominant understanding of evaluation, as a logical, rational activity based on systems thinking and design. As an alternative I argue for a radical interpretation of the complexity sciences, which understands human interaction as always complex and emergent. The interweaving of intentions in human activity will always bring about outcomes that no one has intended including in the activity of evaluation itself.


This document is the Accepted Manuscript version of the following article: Chris Mowles, ‘Complex, but not quite complex enough: The turn to the complexity sciences in evaluation scholarship’. The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Evaluation, Vol. 20 (2): 160-175, April 2014, doi: , published by SAGE Publishing. All rights reserved.

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