Applying complexity theory: a review to inform evaluation design

Eval Program Plann. 2014 Aug;45:119-26. doi: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2014.04.002. Epub 2014 Apr 13.


Complexity theory has increasingly been discussed and applied within evaluation literature over the past decade. This article reviews the discussion and use of complexity theory within academic journal literature. The aim is to identify the issues to be considered when applying complexity theory to evaluation. Reviewing 46 articles, two groups of themes are identified. The first group considers implications of applying complexity theory concepts for defining evaluation purpose, scope and units of analysis. The second group of themes consider methodology and method. Results provide a starting point for a configuration of an evaluation approach consistent with complexity theory, whilst also identifying a number of design considerations to be resolved within evaluation planning.

Keywords: Complexity theory; Evaluation design; Methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Program Evaluation / methods*
  • Research Design*
  • Systems Theory*