Evaluation and Learning for Complexity and Aligned Action: Framing Brief

Published: June 2014

Type: Publication

What do sectoral shifts in strategy mindset and practice toward more complexity and emergence mean for changes in the role of evaluation and learning in foundations?

Tanya Beer
Julia Coffman

While philanthropy has been using the language of complexity, systems, emergence, and adaptation for some time, this brief considers whether sufficient thought has been given to what this means for the positioning and use of evaluation in philanthropy.

Prepared for the 2014 Evaluation Roundtable convening, it examines evolving thinking about how evaluation and learning practices can keep pace with and support evolving philanthropy strategy. The brief highlights emerging observations about the nature of strategy, worldview, focus of strategy, foundation role, and approaches to strategic decision-making.

The core question posed is:

How can evaluation and learning best support strategy when it is not (or cannot be) tightly orchestrated by the foundation, and when it requires  interactions and decisions among independent but interdependent actors trying to align under complex conditions? 

The brief goes on to outline additional discussion questions and considerations for the Roundtable, as well as potential implications for evaluation and learning.