Ethics & Engagement across the Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programmes

Insights from complexity theory for evaluation

The papers and books highlighted below introduce some of the key concepts and aspects of complexity theory. Several of the papers outline evaluation methods influenced by complexity theory and their value for assessment of development and social programmes.

Vincent, R (2009) Measuring social and structural change for HIV prevention, background paper for UNAIDS HIV prevention Think Tank, Wilton Park, Sussex UK Sep 2-4 2009.(31 pages)

Highlights the need for evaluation to address the complex social dimensions of HIV and move beyond a focus on individuals and medical interventions in HIV prevention. Discusses the need to address the challenges of stigma, gender inequality and human rights, as key 'social drivers' of HIV infection. Makes the case for complexity informed methods and more systematic use of critical social theory to help design and evaluation interventions. Social%20assessment%20background%20paper%2028-8-09.doc

Vincent, R (2011) Insights from complexity theory for the evaluation of development action: recognising the two faces of complexity. IKM Working Paper 14. IKM-Emergent/Panos.(47 pages)1203-IKM_Emergent_Working_Paper_14-Complexity_Theory-March_2012.pdf

Reviews some of the ways that complexity theory has been drawn on in the evaluation of development interventions to date and how some of the key concepts in complexity theory such as emergence have been understood and applied. Introduces and summarises a range of evaluation methods that have roots in complexity theory

UNAIDS (2011) Evaluating social change communication for HIV/AIDS: new directions, Discussion Paper, by Ailish Byrne and Robin Vincent for UNAIDS, Geneva: UNAIDS (40 pages). http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/documents/unaidspublication/2009/20111101_JC2250_evaluating-social-change_en.pdf

Gives a critique of dominant evaluation methods in HIV and AIDS response and highlights a range of emerging methods that seek to embrace complexity, and important considerations for developing evaluation frameworks consistent with participatory communication approaches.

Ramalingham B, Jones H, Toussaint, R (2008) Exploring the science of complexity: Ideas and implications for development and humanitarian efforts, London: ODI (78 pages).


Broad summary and review of key aspects of complexity theory and how they may apply to development and humanitarian interventions and programmes

Byrne, D and Callaghan, G (2014) Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences: the state of the art, London: Routledge (297 pages)

Comprehensive and detailed look at the theoretical and methodological engagements with complexity theory by a range of social science disciplines, highlighting influential authors and useful empirical work. Includes a review of current developments in a wide range of fields and takes a detailed look at the implications for research and practice in the field of health.

Please note: this is a very selective list including sharing some papers Robin Vincent has been involved in producing after requests from colleagues. The literature in this area continues to grow.

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