evaluation-conference.de - Keynote Speech

Keynote Speech

Key Note Address "Systems Thinking and Evaluation"

In his keynote speech, Richard Hummelbrunner introduced systemic approaches in evaluation to the audience. Firstly, he explained that development interventions are becoming increasingly multi-layered and multi-faceted, i.e. more complex. Ignoring this complexity or trying to reduce it in an inappropriate manner can lead to questionable or even misleading findings. Hummelbrunner advocates replacing "mechanistic" thinking with systems thinking, which can help to avoid inappropriate simplifications.

He pointed out that systems thinking is not needed in all evaluation settings. In simple contexts, where cause and effect patterns are clear, predictable and controllable, these approaches are not necessarily useful. But systemic approaches should be used to deal with complicated and complex aspects in evaluation.

Hummelbrunner emphasized that systems thinking is not a uniform stock of knowledge, but stems from research originally undertaken in diverse fields such as anthropology, biology, cybernetics, communications theory, sociology and management, which have mutually influenced each other. Therefore a single, concise and generally agreed definition of a system does not exist. Accordingly, there is no such thing as the systemic evaluation.

But the systems field can make some contributions to evaluative practice. The three core concepts interrelations, perspectives and boundaries, and the methods to deal with them, are particularly useful. Beyond specific tools, the evaluator's attitude  is important for making an evaluation "systemic": Evaluators need to be reflective, trust in the self-organisation of social systems, and think and act circularly.

At the end of his keynote address, he encouraged the audience not to feel intimidated by the extent of existing literature and to start or continue learning about systems thinking in evaluation at the conference.


  • Richard Hummelbrunner


Pictures & Illustrations

R. Hummelbrunner giving his keynote speech
R. Hummelbrunner giving his keynote speech
R. Hummelbrunner giving his keynote speech
Visual Facilitation: Simple, complicated and complex domain
Visual Facilitation: Why systems thinking?