Evidence, Understanding and Complexity: Evaluation in Non-Linear Systems

Marian Barnes*, Elizabeth Matka, Helen Sullivan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


This article discusses the challenges associated with the evaluation of complex policy initiatives, focusing on one element of the national evaluation of Health Action Zones in England: Building Capacity for Collaboration. It describes the multiple dimensions of complexity that characterize HAZs and considers the limitations of the Theory of Change approach in encompassing the diverse change processes that HAZs seek to promote. Drawing on social constructionist perspectives and from both complexity theory and new institutional theory, the authors propose that evaluators need not only to be able to work with change theories generated within such complex programmes, but also to apply `higher level' theory to an understanding of the way such programmes develop. They argue that the role of evaluators in `telling the story' is an important part of the evaluation challenge in such contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-284
Number of pages20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2003
Externally publishedYes


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