Ison* (2010, chapter 13) discusses a systems view of valuing and evaluation. Before, I try and summarise these views, I thought it would be good to take stock of where my understanding is starting from.
In TU870 (Capacities for managing development), there was an entire Part of the module dedicated to Evaluation. Obviously this is in a development management context. The materials** started with a general comment that evaluation involves judgements – of merit or the value of something – and informally we are involved in this all the time.
I remember the materials distinguished between:
- summative evaluation – which generally takes place at the end of an intervention and takes a retrospective look. It is often done for the purposes of accountability e.g. to the project funder. Therefore it tends to involve outsiders coming in.
- formative evaluation – which takes place throughout the intervention by those who are involved in it for the purposes of learning and ongoing improvement. I think there are links here with the systems ideas of social learning and systemic inquiry.
So back to Ison (2010, Chapter 13). These are the key points I will carry forward:
Ideas about valuing
Valuing is a type of practice and something we are informally involved in all the time. This means we need to reflect on what we do what we are valuing. By being conscious of what we think and do whilst valuing, we are being more ethical.
Valuing is a social activity:
Valuing, and thus what emerges as value, happens at the personal, interpersonal, organisational and societal level in an unfolding dynamic (page 306)
Value is something that is assigned by the observer, rather than something inherent in the observed (Ison cites Wadsworth to make this point). (Kind of like when antiques are sold at auction!).
Valuing systems practice
To date, our society has not valued systems practice – tending to value instead what I think of as reductionist, scientific approaches that claim objectivity. This is a situation which provides the context for the systemic inquiries we are involved in.
However, systems practitioners themselves do value systems practice. Ison tells us, that for him, one of the key elements of systems practice he values is authenticity. Authenticity is defined by Krippendorff as
the pleasure of participating in togetherness in which one is free to speak for oneself, not in the name of absent others, not under pressure to say things one does not believe in, and not having to hide something for fear of being reprimanded or excluded from further conversation (Krippendorff, cited in Ison, 2010,311)
Evaluating systems practice
Traditional methods of evaluating assume linear chains of causation. Systems practice needs to be evaluated through the same paradigm on which it is founded. Performance is an emergent property of the interactions between the situation; the practitioner; the stakeholders; and, the approaches used by the practitioner. This notion can be used to build capability in Systems as well as to evaluate systems practice.
* Ison, R. (2010) Systems Practice: How to act in a climate-change world, Open University/Springer, Milton Keynes/London
** The Open University (1996) TU870 Capacities for Managing Development Part 3, Open University, Milton Keynes