We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

CECAN - Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


Contributing to the design of public policy that can respond to the problems facing society is challenging. Not only are policies difficult to design well, but it can also often be difficult to know whether the policy was successful. Evaluating whether changes have been caused by the policy or for other reasons can be hard to determine. Policy planning and evaluation are especially challenging when social and environmental problems are intertwined. For example, designing and evaluating a policy on the risk of flooding needs close liaison with experts, local authorities and citizens on issues such as coastal erosion, drainage, farming, housing, transport - and the policy needs to be both flexible and robust across these areas. Complex problems require new solutions with special kinds of methods and approaches to study them.


But how do we design policies that can keep up with environmental and social issues that are fundamentally dynamic? How do we evaluate whether a policy has been effective when the policy has been deliberately designed to adapt over time? What kinds of new methods do we need to be able to design and evaluate complex policies that cross sectors? How do we act quickly to respond to changing policy problems? How do we bring together and mobilise expertise across many different subject areas to work on a common problem and produce new solutions? How can we ensure that policymakers, evaluators, practitioners and students have the skills to design and evaluate policies that need constant updating? These are some of the questions this new Centre will begin to answer.

To do this, the Centre will foster an 'open research' culture of knowledge exchange founded on a growing network of policy- makers, practitioners and researchers. At its core is a strong group of academic and non-academic experts with many years' experience of working on these kinds of problems. The Centre is uniquely positioned to address some of the big policy challenges because:

* each member of the core Centre team is a global figure in their particular research area, has worked with or for policy makers or in policy relevant areas, and is a methodological pioneer who in his or her own way has contributed and created cutting-edge methodological approaches to understanding these complex problems;

* supplementing the core Centre team, a network of academic and non-academic Fellows and Associates will join the Centre for weeks or months. They will offer expert advice on areas that need specialist input for particular policy initiatives and innovations.

The Centre's work will include developing new and enhancing existing methods for the evaluation of policies in complex settings; piloting these methods on a range of evaluation projects; organising educational programmes for practitioners, academics and policymakers; and publishing guides and toolkits for evaluators, those commissioning evaluations, and policy audiences.

Overall, this new and exciting Centre will enable the integration of a complex systems approach into the policy evaluation process and hence contribute to more effective policy-making.


From the Department of Sociology

Related links