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Dealing With Complexity in Development Evaluation

Dealing With Complexity in Development Evaluation
A Practical Approach

Edited by:

November 2015 | 480 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
Recognizing that complexity calls for innovative, conceptual, and methodological solutions, this unique book offers practical guidance to policymakers, managers, and evaluation practitioners on how to design and implement complexity-responsive evaluations that can be undertaken in the real world of time, budget, data, and political constraints. Introductory chapters present comprehensive, non-technical overviews of the most common evaluation tools and methodologies, and additional content addresses more cutting-edge material. The book also includes six case study chapters to illustrate examples of various evaluation contexts from around the world.  

Part 1: Dealing with Complexity in Development Evaluation: A Framework
Michael Bamberger, Jos Vaessen, and Estelle Raimondo
Chapter 1: Complexity in Development Evaluation: The Framework of the Book
Estelle Raimondo, Jos Vaessen, and Michael Bamberger
Chapter 2: Toward More Complexity-Responsive Evaluations: Overview and Challenges
Michael Bamberger
Chapter 3: Management of Complexity-Responsive Evaluations
Part 2: Dealing with Complexity in Development Evaluation: Methodological Approaches
Jos Vaessen, Estelle Raimondo, and Michael Bamberger
Chapter 4: Impact Evaluation Approaches and Complexity
Frans L. Leeuw
Chapter 5: Understanding What is Being Evaluated: Theory-Based Evaluation
Frans L. Leeuw
Chapter 6: Five Practical Evaluation Problems to Which TBE Can Contribute
Michael Bamberger, Estelle Raimondo, and Jos Vaessen
Chapter 7: Dealing with Complexity by Unpacking and Reassembling Elements of a Complex Program
Michael Bamberger
Chapter 8: The Importance of a Mixed Methods Approach for Evaluating Complexity
Part 3: Emerging Data and Innovative Techniques to Deal with Complexity in Development Evaluation
Jos Vaessen
Chapter 9: Complexity in Review and Synthesis Studies
Susan van den Braak, Sunil Choenni, and Michael Bamberger
Chapter 10: Emergent Technologies and Creative Use of Multiple Sources of Information
Kerry Bruce and Alison E. Koler
Chapter 11: Applying Emergent Technologies to Complex Program Evaluation From the INGO Perspective
Emmanuel Letouzé, Ana Areias, and Sally Jackson
Chapter 12: The Evaluation of Complex Development Interventions in the Age of Big Data
Part 4: Dealing with Complexity in Development Evaluation: The Institutional Challenges
Estelle Raimondo
Chapter 13: Dealing with Institutional Complexity: Implications for Evaluation Design, Process, and Use
Estelle Raimondo and Michael Bamberger
Chapter 14: Gender Equality in Development Evaluation: The Intersection of Complexities
Part 5: Complexity of Evaluation in Practice: Case Studies
Allison R. Davis and Melida Guevera
Chapter 15: A Case Study in Complexity: Evaluating a Long-Term Effort to Prevent Gender-Based Violence in El Salvador
Jos Vaessen, Ana Rivas and Frans L. Leeuw
Chapter 16: Microcredit and Women's Empowerment: Complexity in Systematic Review
Kim Forss
Chapter 17: Evaluation of Coordination Against Trafficking in Persons: A Case Study of a Complexity-Responsive Evaluation
Leny van Oijen
Chapter 18: Complexity from the Perspective of Philanthropic Foundations and Their Evaluation Practices
Antonie de Kemp and Geske Dijkstra
Chapter 19: Evaluating General Budget Support
Gill Westhorp, Bill Walker, and Patricia Rogers
Chapter 20: Dealing with Complexity in a Realist Synthesis: Community Accountability and Empowerment Initiatives

This volume provides useful guidance to development evaluation specialists to deal with their increasingly complex contexts and tasks.

Mark Ginsburg
Global Education Department, FHI 360

The book shows, through a meticulous review of academic studies and some specific cases of real evaluations, that complex development interventions can be evaluated effectively and some of the techniques that make this possible.

John Mathiason
Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, Cornell University

This is the 'nuts and bolts' book that evaluation practitioners have been waiting for. Authored by highly experienced evaluators and grounded in real life examples from all parts of the world it illuminates the core ideas of complexity theory, makes sense of abstruse systems concepts and guides the reader through the contemporary maze of program theory, mixed methods and web based information technologies. A lucid and comprehensive treatment of the evaluation state of the art it is a must-have text for emerging evaluators, advanced evaluators and evaluation managers operating in uncertain, turbulent and conflict ridden environments.

Robert Picciotto
Visiting Professor, Department of Political Economy, King’s College and former Director-General of the Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank

This is an extremely useful book when managing and carrying out evaluations of the increasingly complex nature of international development. It should be required reading for everyone involved in assessing results of development cooperation.

Per Øyvind Bastøe
Director, Evaluation Department, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation

This book is impressive in its breadth and depth of coverage of a topic increasingly on the minds of evaluation practitioners. It provides much needed practical guidance and valuable conceptual insights in an area that’s often discussed but rarely well understood. The book will appeal to a wide range of experienced evaluation professionals, emerging evaluators and students of evaluation.

Penny Hawkins
Head of Evaluation, Department for International Development

This is one of the most important books ever published in the field of development evaluation. Dealing with complex systems is a premier challenge for evaluators working in real life situations. As a practitioner in the field I cannot emphasize the value of this book enough. The authors tackle the issue of complexity and its critical significance from both theoretical and practical points of view. They offer concrete ways in which evaluators and organizations can deal effectively with complexity. The editors, each one of them an eminent authority in the field, have put together a group of authors who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. Highly recommended to evaluation commissioners and practitioners, as well as those with an interest in the scientific aspects of evaluation approaches and methodologies.

Juha I. Uitto
Director, Independent Evaluation Office, Global Environment Facility

This is the first book that seeks to operationalize a complexity perspective into mainstream development evaluation, focusing on the specificities of this broad based sector, encompassing multiple objectives, institutions, contexts, constituencies and beneficiaries. The main conclusions can speak then to larger audiences of evaluators, program designers, managers, and researchers throughout the world, making a very useful contribution to evaluation culture and practice.

Mita Marra
Assistant Professor, University of Salerno and President of the Italian Evaluation Society
Key features


  • The author’s practical, multi-step framework bridges the gap between evaluation practice and the complexity debate to demonstrate that even organizations with limited resources can significantly improve the quality of their evaluations of complex programs.
  • Complexity is broken down into a set of four dimensions, each of which can be understood by non-specialists, for easy comprehension.
  • A set of case studies illustrate the practical meaning of complexity in individual projects, multi-country programs, and complex, multi-donor funded programs, to include a variety of situations.
  • Three chapters on how to collect, manage, and use complex data cover important topics rarely discussed in other texts, providing insight on new information technology (smartphones, mapping tools, the Internet, etc.), development of integrated data platforms, the use of big data for monitoring and evaluation, and more.
  • A chapter dedicated to the management of complex evaluations which is targeted specifically to evaluation and program managers speaks to an audience often excluded in other texts.
  • A strong focus on the use of mixed methods sets the book apart by targeting both quantitative and qualitative evaluators.
  • A comprehensive review of all of the most widely used evaluation tools provides a foundation that can be used as a refresher course.
  • A balance between practice and theory appeals to the interest of evaluation practitioners as well as more theory-oriented readers.
  • The authors provide a comprehensive definition of complexity beyond the narrow conception that lies in the causal process that may be described in other books.
  • The tools and techniques of complexity science—often presented at a highly technical level—are explained in an easy-to-understand, accessible manner, ensuring mastery well before advanced discussions. 

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

Chapter 4

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