I predict a bright future for complexity. Have you ever considered how complicated things can get, what with one thing always leading to another?
~~E. B. White, Quo VADIMUS? OR THE CASE FOR THE BICYCLE (Garden City. Publishing 1946)
Every thing is connected.
One thing does lead to another. And connections between them can be drawn. So let’s connect the dots.
In 2002, as AEA president, I chose for the theme of the meeting, Evaluation a Systematic Process that Reforms Systems.
Evaluation doesn’t stand in isolation; it is not something that is added on at the end as an afterthought.
Many program planners see evaluation that way, unfortunately. Only as an add on, at the end.
Contrary to may peoples’ belief, evaluators need to be included at the outset of the program. They also need to be included at each stage thereafter (Program Implementation, Program Monitoring, and Program Delivery; Data Management and Data Analysis; Program Evaluation Utilization).
Shortly after Evaluation 2002, (in 2004) the Systems Evaluation Topical Interest Group was formed.
AEA published (2007) “Systems Concepts in Evaluation: A Expert Anthology” (scroll to the end). It was edited by Bob Williams and Iraj Imam (who died as this volume was going to press). To order, see this link.
This volume does an excellent job of demonstrating how evaluation and systems concepts are related.
It connects the dots.
In that volume, Gerald Midgley writes about “the intellectual development of systems field, how this has influenced practice and importantly the relevance for all this to evaluators and evaluation”. It is the pivotal chapter (according to the editors).
While it is possible to trace the idea to trace the ideas about holistic thinking back to the ancient Greeks, systems thinking is probably best attributed to the ideas of von Bertalanffy [Bertalanffy, L. von. (1950). Theory of open systems in physics and biology. Science, III: 23-29.]
I would argue that the complexity concept will go back to at least Alexander von Humboldt . (Way before von Bertalanffy.) He was an intrepid explorer and created modern environmentalism. Alexander von Humboldt lived between 1769–1859. Although environmentalism is a complex word, it really is a system. With connections. And complexity.
Suffice it to say, there are no easy answers to the problems faced by professionals today. Complex. Complicated. And one thing leading to another.