Footprint evaluation: Thought experiments

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This Footprint Evaluation Initiative report describes four 'thought experiments' undertaken as part of this project.

The thought experiments involved revisiting a past, real-life evaluation and walking through how this could have been done differently to incorporate considerations of environmental sustainability.

This resource and the following information was contributed by Alice Macfarlan.

Authors and their affiliation

  • E. Jane Davidson
  • Dugan Fraser
  • Patricia Rogers
  • Andy Rowe
  • Kaye Stevens

Key features

The Footprint Evaluation Initiative aims to ensure that all evaluations consider environmental sustainability, regardless of whether this is an explicit objective of the project, policy or program being evaluated. This report describes four ‘thought experiments’ undertaken as part of this project.

The thought experiments discussed here involved four very different completed evaluations: a small, local community garden, funded as part of a national community strengthening program; a redevelopment of a sub-national community corrections program as part of a larger strategy to reduce re-offending; a ten-year retrospective impact evaluation of a multi-site community development program (funded through an international child-sponsorship program which supported community development activities in the child’s village); and a national unconditional cash grant, child support program. 

The thought experiments were used to explore whether it is relevant, feasible and useful to consider environmental sustainability in evaluation, how this might be done, what challenges and issues it raises, and what is needed to address these. 

This report aims to document and share what was learned during this process, provide concrete examples of how environmental sustainability might be considered in an evaluation, and share details of the thought experiment process that others might find helpful.

How have you used or intend on using this resource?

The Footprint Evaluation team found the ‘thought experiment’ process to be a valuable for developing and sharing knowledge about how to address environmental sustainability in evaluations. In this work, it was used as a research process. It can also be used in workshops, supporting knowledge translation and identifying new issues, challenges, tools and principles.

Why would you recommend it to other people?

One of the challenges in addressing environmental sustainability in all evaluations is to ensure that this is put on the agenda of evaluations of non-environmental projects and programs. The Footprint Evaluation Thought Experiment report is a good starting point for thinking through whether this inclusion is relevant, feasible and useful, using four quite different evaluations to explore this.

The report also  identifies several key 'elements' of addressing environmental sustainability in evaluation that will be useful for practitioners to think about applying in their work. 

And finally, for the wider evaluation community who are seeking to contribute to expanding the knowledge about how to do this well, the report lists a number of challenges and issues that would benefit from further exploration and research.


Footprint Evaluation Initiative (2022). Footprint Evaluation thought experiments: Thinking through how to embed environmental sustainability into evaluation. Available at

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