Evaluation at the endgame: Evaluating sustainability and the SDGs by moving past dominion and institutional capture

“Business-as-usual evaluation will not suffice. At the endgame with extinction looming, we need an evaluation that is more nimble, keeps up with rapidly accelerating knowledge, is relentlessly use-seeking and that guides the way to joined-up approaches. The evaluation we need will systematically mainstream sustainability across all evaluations and interventions, in all evaluation criteria and standards.”

Key points

This chapter clearly makes the case that evaluation can play a useful role in addressing the urgent threats to sustainability of the planet and the life it supports. It outlines evidence showing that to date evaluations are primarily focussed on human systems and do not have the intellectual infrastructure to incorporate sustainability. The systemic origins for evaluation’s prioritization of human over natural systems: a dominion world view, accountability and institutional capture are explored.

The stances and standards evaluation needs to adopt to make a useful contribution to avoiding catastrophic tipping points are:

  • Recognizing natural systems as the foundation for the human system - adding the natural system perspective to all evaluation criteria.
  • Emphasize achieving the larger goals identified as central to checkmating extinction.
  • Shift to evaluating against collective achievement of sustainability goals, and away from likely contributions by partitioned organizations and interventions
  • Sustainability is imbedded in all evaluation criteria reflecting nexus, not isolated as a free-standing criterion
  • Evaluating with rapid change and uncertainty
  • Relentlessly pursues use


“The most fundamental change is from evaluations’ almost monastic focus on the human system to systematic consideration of all interventions (projects, programs, strategies, policies) in their nexus location where both human and natural systems are present, have influence, provide value, and are affected.

“The underlying mechanism for this monastic, human-centered worldview lies in the rootstock of evaluation that is said to be provided by Western social and management sciences with accountability, social inquiry, and social research methods as the trunk of the tree (Christie & Alkin, 2008; Alkin, 2004). That evaluation rootstock is embedded in and draws nutrition from the accumulated soils of Judeo-Christian society strongly infused with dominion, a worldview in which humans have ascendancy over other living and nonliving things, and over other peoples (Rowe, 2018). “

“The evaluation worldview must shift to acknowledge that human life is intrinsically contingent on healthy natural systems with which we are coupled and that we must end the unnecessary harm we cause and move to restoring critical environmental values.”

Why would you recommend it to other people?

This chapter doesn’t mince words about the urgency and magnitude of current environmental crises, it offers thoughtful reflections on why evaluation has largely ignored environmental sustainability and identifies what is needed for evaluation to make a useful contribution to avoiding extinction.


Rowe, A. (2022). Evaluation at the Endgame: Evaluating Sustainability and the SDGs by Moving Past Dominion and Institutional Capture.

In: Uitto, J.I., Batra, G. (eds) Transformational Change for People and the Planet. Sustainable Development Goals Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-78853-7_14