This IIED briefing paper advocates for using a ‘complex systems’ lens to approach the follow-up and review of the Sustainable Development Goals and discusses five key aspects of this perspective and their implications for national evaluation agendas. This is the third in a collection of briefings discussing the role of evaluation in achieving the SDGs. Read the first and the second paper in this series.
Authors and their affiliation
- Zenda Ofir is the President of the International Centre for Evaluation and Development (ICED), a former president of the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) and an honorary professor at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
- Dorothy Lucks is co-chair of EVALSDGs, IOCE board secretary, an EvalPartners executive committee member and the executive director of SDF Global.
- Stefano D’Errico is the monitoring evaluation and learning lead at IIED and a council member of the United Kingdom Evaluation Society (UKES).
- Kassem El-Saddik is vice-chair of EVALSDGs and a member of the Evaluators Middle East and North Africa network (EvalMENA).
- Thomas Schwandt is a professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA and an editor emeritus of the American Journal of Evaluation.
Year of publication
Type of resource
Each country sets its own national agenda and strategy within the broad contours of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet the Agenda gives little explicit guidance on how to do this. However, there is a perspective on development that offers direction.
This perspective views development through a ‘complex systems’ lens. It is consistent with the 2030 Agenda because it considers development as a holistic, integrated, multifaceted and context-sensitive process that has diverse means and ends, and is intimately tied to sustainability.
This briefing summarises five aspects of this perspective that emerged as important lessons for evaluation during the Millennium Development Goals era, and discusses their implications for national evaluation agendas that support countries’ achievement of the SDGs.
The main messages discussed include:
- National evaluation systems need to be grounded in a philosophy and practice of evaluation that is consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals’ interconnected nature.
- Taking a ‘complex systems’ perspective on development is particularly useful for attending to this interrelated nature.
- Lessons from the Millennium Development Goal era show that taking this perspective early on will enhance national evaluation systems as well as development results.
- Five considerations can help resource-constrained countries to set national evaluation agendas and maximise the value of evaluation: thinking beyond single policies, programmes and projects; examining macro forces influencing success or failure; having a nuanced understanding of ‘success’; recognising the importance of culture; and adopting evaluative thinking and adaptive management.
This is the third in a collection of briefings discussing the role of evaluation in achieving the SDGs.
Read the first paper here: Evaluation: A crucial ingredient for SDG success.
Read the second paper here: Counting critically: SDG ‘follow-up and review’ needs interlinked indicators, monitoring and evaluation
Who is this resource useful for?
- Advocates for evaluation;
- Commissioners/managers of evaluation;
- Evaluation users;
- Other – policy makers involved in national review processes of the SDGs; practitioners of civil society organisations
How have you used or intend on using this resource?
The paper is used to advocate for greater critical thinking in follow-up and review processes in the SDGs, hence it aims to be a tool for all evaluators and commissioners who would like to inform and influence the debate on ‘follow-up and review of the SDGs’.
Why would you recommend it to other people?
Because it unpacks crucial lessons learnt during the implementation of the SDGs and it explores how these should inform national evaluation agendas that aims to feed into ‘follow-up and review’ processes of the SDGs. As for the other briefings in the series, the paper tries to use language free from evaluation jargon to be accessible to both evaluators and non-evaluators.
Ofir, Z., Lucks, D. D'Errico, S. El-Saddik, K. and Schwandt, T. (2016). Evaluation: a crucial ingredient for SDG success. IIED Briefing, July 2016. IIED.