III-b Transforming Evaluation for Evaluating Transformation

Description of workshop contents

Transforming evaluation for evaluating transformation examines the contributions that evaluation can make to addressing the crisis of climate change and related threats to human survival looming large in Earth’s future.

Humankind has moved into a new epoch called the Anthropocene: The era of human impact on the future of the Earth. The stability, sustainability, and resilience of the Earth’s systems, both natural and human, are now at risk due to cumulative negative human actions. Two conclusions characterize our times:

  1. Humanity’s use of the Earth’s resources for both production and consumption is unsustainable.
  2. Transformation globally is urgently required to avoid catastrophe.

Significant global warming is apparent in all the independent methods of calculating global temperature change and other independent observations such as the melting of mountain glaciers on every continent, reductions in the extent of snow cover, earlier blooming of plants in spring, a shorter ice season on lakes and rivers, ocean heat content, reduced arctic sea ice, and rising sea levels. The UN Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change issued in 2018 projects that the year 2030 is roughly the time when global warming reaches an irreversible tipping point. These conclusions about the scope and nature of humanity’s global crisis has led to calls for urgent and major global systems change.

This course will examine the evidence for these conclusions and the implications for evaluation.

The question this course addresses is how to evaluate global systems transformation. This applies beyong climate change mitigation to related problems of food security, agricutural transformation, equity issues, global health trends, governamce transformations, and the connections between local and global changes. The premise underlying the answer is that evaluation must be transformed if it is to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Traditional project and program evaluation will not suffice to address transformational systems changes across sectors on a global scale. Indeed, traditional approaches to project and program evaluation can create barriers to transformative change.

We shall look at examples of transformative initiatives and their evaluations, or lack thereof. In so doing, we will distinguish a theory of transformation from a theory of change. The course will offer 10 principles for global systems transformation as a framework for assessing the likely adequacy of an initiative or intervention to be transformative. Simply monitoring progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not transformative.

Given that transformational changes are multi-faceted and occur in complex dynamic systems, traditional evaluation concerns about attribution, effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability have to be reframed. For example, systems transformation is different from program outcomes -- different in the degree of change, the nature of change, the pace of change, the direction of change, the scale of change, the interconnectedness of change, and the implications for sustainability and systems resilience.

Evaluating transformation change requires new ways of conceptualizing and conducting evaluations. That is the focus of the course. The course will use excerpts from Patton’s new book on Blue Marble Evaluation for Global Systems Transformation.

Workshop Objectives

The participants will

  • Know what the Anthropocene Epoch is that humanity is now in mand the implications for design and evaluation of transformative initiatives and interventions.
  • Learn the 10 dimensions of a theory of transformation, how it is different from a theory of change, and the evaluation implications of the differences.
  • Become skilled in designing evaluations of transformations based on four core principles of global systems change evaluation.

Recommended for

Those concerned about addressing transformational change in the face of the global crises brought on by climate change and related threats to the survival of humanity whether they be evaluators, designers of transformative interventions, policy makers concerned about the future, researchers studying global trends, funders of transformative initiatives and evaluation of those initiatives, or students desiring to prepare for the sustainability challenges of the future.


Participants at any level of expertise are welcome. It is not a technical course requiring advanced knowledge. Anyone can grasp the principles and practices covered in the course.




Michael Patton