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Evidence, Understanding and Complexity: Evaluation in Non-Linear Systems

Barnes, Marian; Matka, Elizabeth; Sullivan, Helen


Marian Barnes

Elizabeth Matka

Helen Sullivan


© 2003, SAGE Publications This article discusses the challenges associated with the evaluation of complex policy initiatives, focusing on one element of the national evaluation of Health Action Zones in England: Building Capacity for Collaboration. It describes the multiple dimensions of complexity that characterize HAZs and considers the limitations of the Theory of Change approach in encompassing the diverse change processes that HAZs seek to promote. Drawing on social constructionist perspectives and from both complexity theory and new institutional theory, the authors propose that evaluators need not only to be able to work with change theories generated within such complex programmes, but also to apply `higher level' theory to an understanding of the way such programmes develop. They argue that the role of evaluators in `telling the story' is an important part of the evaluation challenge in such contexts.


Barnes, M., Matka, E., & Sullivan, H. (2003). Evidence, Understanding and Complexity: Evaluation in Non-Linear Systems. Evaluation, 9(3), 265-284.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jul 1, 2003
Journal Evaluation
Print ISSN 1356-3890
Electronic ISSN 1461-7153
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Issue 3
Pages 265-284
Keywords evidence, understanding, complexity, non-linear systems
Public URL
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