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Article Article June 20th, 2024
Delivery • Innovation

How do you understand impact in complex systems?

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How do you understand impact in complex systems? @CPI_foundation's Pravallika Valiveti discusses a principles-focused approach, which enables flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness.

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.@CPI_foundation embrace the complexity of modern governance, which is why they have adopted a principles-focused approach to understanding and measuring impact.

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"Our principles-focused approach to impact evaluation provides a robust and adaptable framework for assessing the effectiveness of governance initiatives." @CPI_foundation

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We put our vision for government into practice through learning partner projects that align with our values and help reimagine government so that it works for everyone.

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Today’s policymakers face a myriad of complex, interconnected, and dynamic challenges. Traditional linear and reductionist approaches to policy and impact evaluation fall short in addressing these multifaceted “wicked problems.”

At the Centre for Public Impact (CPI), we embrace the complexity of modern governance. We recognise the need for innovative thinking and action that acknowledges and leverages this complexity. This recognition has led us to adopt a principles-focused approach to understanding and measuring our impact.

"At the Centre for Public Impact (CPI), we embrace the complexity of modern governance."

A principles-focused approach

A principles-focused approach is particularly suited for evaluating complex systems. Instead of relying solely on pre-determined, rigid metrics, we focus on adherence to guiding principles. This allows for greater flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness to the evolving nature of these systems.

The essence of systems change

Change often begins with a few pioneering individuals and grows into a broader movement. This transformation is driven by individuals who challenge the status quo and explore new ways to achieve their vision of a better world. Systems change is a collaborative and social endeavour, often starting with the personal transformation of these leaders. Once they grasp the essence of this shift, they can build the capacity of their systems to operate differently.

At CPI, we aim to cultivate this leadership essence among our partners, fostering a long-term, sustainable ripple effect through our principles of better governance. By practising these principles, we inspire a vision of a new world and promote systems change through shifts in values and ways of working.

Our principles

  1. Think systematically, act locally: Our actions should be informed by an awareness of the system but focused on encouraging local ownership.

  2. Share power with those best placed to act: Devolve decision-making rights to those with the information and agency to make a difference.

  3. Challenge unnecessary hierarchy and collaborate across boundaries: Where possible encourage multi-disciplinary teams working in flat structures.

  4. Seek out strengths and build on them: This helps create a more positive foundation for change.

  5. Champion the voices of those who are heard the least: This helps to promote diversity of thought and create a more inclusive conversation.

  6. Optimise for learning rather than control: The capacity of the system to learn is more important than for someone to be in charge.

Learning journeys at CPI

With these principles in mind, we evaluate our programmes using learning journeys. This approach is particularly suited for dynamic environments where traditional metrics may not fully capture the nuanced impacts of interventions.

A “learning journey” is a structured and adaptable plan integrated into a programme’s design. It facilitates reflection and learning among internal and external stakeholders throughout various programme phases.

"This approach is particularly suited for dynamic environments where traditional metrics may not fully capture the nuanced impacts of interventions."

Key stages of learning journeys

While the exact questions vary, these are the general themes that guide us: 

Session zero

  1. What does success look and feel like? What challenges are we trying to solve?

  2. What assumptions do we hold about the programme? Why do we think our proposed solution will work? What do we know/not know about landscape of the system, context of the individuals or communities, etc.?

  3. What principles are we prioritising in this programme and how do they look in action?

Periodic learning and reflection check-ins including the end of programme reflection

  1. Reflect on the answers documented during session zero. Do these still hold true? Please document an updated version if anything is changed.

  2. How have we demonstrated principles for better governance?

  3. What assumptions, if any, held true or have been proven incorrect through our experience? What evidence do we have to draw this conclusion?

  4. What have we learnt about the system? What went well? What did not go well? Are there any unexpected outcomes?

Post-programme check-in

  1. Questions that lean towards observing if the success articulated in session zero is achieved.

  2. Questions around principles that were prioritised, and if any of these practices are still in action.

  3. Overall feedback and reflection on what went well and what could've been done better, should we have an opportunity to implement the same program again.

Our principles-focused approach to impact evaluation provides a robust and adaptable framework for assessing the effectiveness of governance initiatives. By focusing on the principles of effective governance, we ensure that our evaluations align with our core values and capture the complex, dynamic nature of our work. Our hope is that this approach facilitates continuous learning, adaptation, and improvement, ultimately driving more meaningful and sustainable impact.

Written by:

Pravallika Valiveti Global Senior Manager, Knowledge, Learning and Impact
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