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Coffee Break Conversation: Making it Real: Systems Thinking for Evaluation Practice

Info: Join us for an AEA Coffee Break conversation, featuring an upcoming pre-conference workshop taking place at Eval 23 in Indianapolis, Indiana. In this session, you will hear about the topic from the presenter and have the opportunity ask the presenter a question before heading out to Eval 23. You can find registration information for pre-conference workshops here:

The discussion and use of systems thinking in evaluation practice has increased dramatically in the last few years. As much as we might intuitively understand that we live in an inter-connected world, it can be challenging for evaluators to know how to skillfully apply systems thinking to evaluation. This introductory workshop provides an opportunity to learn the basic concepts of systems thinking and explore practical ways to apply these concepts to evaluation practice. This highly interactive workshop includes in-depth small group work to provide a solid foundation for continued practice after the workshop. Participants will find many of the techniques and tools used during the workshop useful in working with evaluation clients and stakeholders to help them understand and appreciate a systems approach.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Upon completion, participants will be able to identify the core systems concepts – boundaries, perspectives, interrelationships – that are foundational to systems approaches and how they relate to evaluation practice.
  • Upon completion, participants will have a basic understanding of how to use a sampling of systems thinking techniques and approaches that can be used in program evaluation to: (a) deepen contextual understanding of the program; (b) clarify program theory and program logic; (c) elicit useful evaluation questions; and (d) expand stakeholder/client understanding of programs and their potential outcomes.
  • Upon completion, participants will be able to apply systems techniques and approaches to: (a) understand a program’s theory, purpose, and logic; (b) address complexity when evaluating programs; and (c) surface perspectives and address issues of power.

This workshop is aligned to AEA’s Competencies and Guiding Principles as follows:
As a founder and former program chair and chair Systems in Evaluation TIG, I have often found evaluators struggling to integrate systems notions into their own thinking and practice, to describe systems, and to think systemically. In talking to evaluators about systems and systems thinking, many of us in the TIG have been struck by how many people find systems ideas disturbing, unsettling, and difficult to put into practice. Yet, this year’s theme, The Power of Story, is particularly apt for the field of systems thinking whose fundamental concepts are specifically focused on taking that deep dive into a program’s story, exploring program culture and context, and surfacing issues of power and perspective in ways that do more than just present outcomes. An evaluation based on systems thinking helps tell the story of a program’s origins, what it has achieved, and why it has attained the outcomes we see. Although a deeply practical field, systems thinking challenges our ideas about expertise, purpose, values, and certainty in ways that are often more emotional than logical. It allows us to tell the story of programs in a way that is authentic and true to their context and their dreams. The proposed workshop has been specifically designed to challenge participant thinking about systems, create discomfort, and provide a safe space for discussion and learning about systems and systems thinking for evaluation practice.

Janice Noga, MEd
Pathfinder Evaluation and Consulting

September 26, 12:30 PM - 1:00 PM ET

Once you purchase the eStudy you must register for each session. Recordings will be made available to registrants unable to attend sessions live. Recordings will be made available to all registrants for 90 days.