I provide training and consultancy support in the use of systems concepts in evaluation.  This includes the material below, workshops, evaluation design, and one-on-one mentoring and advice.  Contact me for more details about what I can do for you and your work.

Because I believe strongly that the systems field can contribute strongly to the development of the evaluation field.

How so ?

And questions, especially powerful questions, are the lifeblood of good evaluation.

These are important issues within evaluation.

For me, systems concepts provide me with very powerful ways of exploring inter-relationships, perspectives and boundaries.  These are important issues within evaluation. 

          •Inter-relationships are the key to understanding how programs behave. 

          •Perspectives provide insight into motivations and thus how people behave. 

          •Boundaries determine who wins and who loses from an intervention, or what is "in" and what is "out" of an assessment of that intervention.  In other words boundaries indicate judgements of value or worth.

More than evaluation, the systems field has thought deeply about these three concepts and come up with approaches that can transform the way in which evaluation does its job.

The material in this section indicates what is possible and how people have used systems concepts in evaluation.

I'm indebted to many people in developing this work.  Bill Harris, Glenda Eoyang, Teri Behrens, Phil Capper, Bob Dick, Patricia Rogers, Craig Russon, Martin Reynolds, Richard Hummelbrunner, Gerald Midgley, Sjon van ‘t Hof and Jerry Winston have played vital roles.  What follows is as much to do with them as me - although all the mistakes are mine.  Much of the other material emerged from workshops for local and national evaluation associations, various multilateral agencies and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and I thank them for their support.


Second Edition

ThisERRbook, written with Sjon van ‘t Hof, is about the use of core systems ideas in dealing with wicked situations.  Wicked situations are those where identifying problems is not easy and selecting good solutions is even more difficult. Many societal, business and development challenges are in fact wicked problems.

Using three basic systems concepts – inter-relationships, perspectives, and boundaries - this book will help you :

          ■unpick the tangle of issues that need addressing

          ■design suitable ways of tackling those issues

          ■deal with some tricky aspects of working in wicked situations

          ■find more information about systems methods and managing interventions systemically.

A free, 24-page partial preview can be downloaded from here

You can get an ebook version here

And a physical book here

Gather any group of professionals in a room and there will be collective handwringing over why people don't use their ideas more.  It's true with both the evaluation and the systems fields.  But one day in an otherwise dull conference session someone from a school of design stood up and said 'what's the problem guys, we use the stuff all the time'.  

At that moment it dawned on me that one of the most significant areas that the systems field can contribute to evaluation is in evaluation design.  

Evaluation design is one of the least documented areas of the evaluation field.  As the evaluator Michael Patton has suggested many times evaluators are dangerously addicted to method.  So generally speaking the focus of evaluation design is focused on the selection and then development of a particular method.   Consequently there are very few generic approaches to what design work has to be done before selecting an evaluation method or methodology.  I felt that a systems approach could provide one.

So the past four years I've been been refining one and two day workshops that focus specifically on the use of certain systems concepts in evaluation design; this includes:

·     determining the purposes of both the intervention to be evaluated and the evaluation

·     understanding the potential and desirable uses, influence and consequences of the    evaluation

·     selecting the criteria by which evaluative judgements of merit, value or worth

·     identifying the key evaluation questions that will enable

Eventually I decided that I'd enough material for a book, and that resulted in Using Systems Concepts In Evaluation Design.

In English it is available as an ebook (for $5) here

In Spanish, thanks to the work of Alain Santandreu of ECOSAD, and Brenda Bucheli of Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and EvalPeru, you can get a free copy from here.  ECOSAD also sell a beautifully produced hardcopy version.

The Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN) in Kyoto, Japan is a remarkable institution dedicated to the transdisciplinarly study and resolution of problems resulting from humanity's interaction with nature.  On the ground floor it has all the fancy scientific equipment you could imagine, and on the floor above multi-disciplinary teams working on complex socio-political-scientific issues.  

For each project, the teams have a year to come up with a design.  If that design is considered adequate then they have three years to implement that design.  So clearly design is an important element of their work - but how to you design an intervention in highly complex environments using multiple knowledge systems (scientific, indigenous, political)?

I've had a working relationship with RIHN for a while and given my interest in design ran a two day workshop based on Wicked Solutions and emerging ideas that became Using Systems Concepts in Evaluation Design (although in this case oriented towards research design).  Participants worked on their own projects throughout the two days.

The workshop was recorded and brilliantly edited into two separate videos; one exploring the basic principles and the other covering the more detailed aspects of research design using systems ideas.  The two videos ended up as one of iTunes top ten scientific videos for 2016, which is kinda cool.

You can view the two videos on the following YouTube channels




The book by Richard Hummelbrunner and myself is focused on the practical use of systems ideas. It describes 19 commonly used systems approaches, complete with case studies, variations and discussion of each approach's pros and cons. Each chapter begins with a set of questions that the particular method addresses.

To the best of our knowledge no other book comprehensively explores the practical side of such a large range of systems methods.

You can find it on Amazon, or get it direction in various formats from Stanford University Press here


The methods are :

Causal Loop Diagrams

System Dynamics

Social Network Analysis

Outcome Mapping

Process Monitoring of Impacts

Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing

Strategic Area Assessment

The CDE Model

Assumption-Based Planning


Solution Focus

Viable System Model

Cultural Historical Activity Theory

Soft Systems Methodology

Dialectical Methods of Inquiry

Scenario Technique

Systemic Questioning

Circular Dialogues

Critical Systems Heuristics