Systems Change Evaluation Forum

Published: May 2017

Type: Publication

Complex systems change efforts create practical challenges for evaluation. This report provides observations, tools, approaches, and advice for addressing these challenges.

Tanya Beer

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation convened their full staff and a group of external evaluators who work in philanthropy for a Systems Change Evaluation Forum. Participants grappled with four practical dilemmas that systems change efforts create for evaluation:

  1. How do we better understand our unique contribution to change when there are so many other actors influencing the system?
  2. How can we select and capture meaningful interim outcomes to understand systems change progress when we are operating in short time horizons and using strategies that have indirect impact?
  3. How do we set realistic boundaries around the aspects of the system that our strategy and our evaluation should focus on?
  4. How can we embed continuous, intentional learning into our strategy and evaluation work?

These dilemmas are common among systems change funders who also are committed to evaluation. Although handling the dilemmas that come along with systems change work requires a broader shift in mindsets, there are practical tools and approaches that can help foundation program and evaluation staff manage them.

This summary offers a suite of observations, tools, approaches, and advice that emerged from the convening.