Using a Complex Adaptive Systems Perspective to Illuminate the Concept of Evaluation Capacity Building in a Network

Amy Grack Nelson, Jean A. King, Frances Lawrenz, Christine Reich, Marjorie Bequette, Scott Pattison, Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann, Molly Illes, Sarah Cohn, Stephanie Iacovelli, Christopher L.B. Cardiel, Gayra Ostgaard, Juli Goss, Marta Beyer, Lauren Causey, Anne Sinkey, Melanie Francisco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


While evaluation capacity building (ECB) may hold promise for fostering evaluation, little is known about how it is operationalized within a network. This article presents initial findings from a National Science Foundation–funded research project (Complex Adaptive Systems as a Model for Network Evaluations) that used concepts from complex adaptive systems theory to develop case studies of ECB within the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network. The project used a multiple case study approach to explore ECB within four Network workgroups. Cross-case themes documented characteristics of the system and ECB within it. Evaluation capacity was evident in several ways, including people's comfort with evaluation, evaluation-related skills, evaluation processes used, and the value placed on evaluation. Ultimately, the study identified several complex adaptive system features that fostered Network ECB: massive entanglement and neighbor interactions, information flow/feedback loops, stability and flexibility/adaptability, redundancy and diversity of evaluative skills and knowledge, and both centralized and distributed control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-230
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Journal of Evaluation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This report was based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1228868.


  • capacity building
  • case studies
  • complex adaptive systems
  • systems

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