Complexity theory and evaluation in public management: a qualitative systems approach

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Complexity theory offers a systems based evaluative approach that places importance on holistic evaluation. Systems are seen as relatively unstable, but with some time periods that are stable. The theory provides some important metaphors for evaluating policy systems. The focus on whole systems, rates of change, evolving interactions and attractor states can be argued to be a radical methodology. This article explores an evaluative method where quantitative time series methods can aid the qualitative understanding of complex systems. Rates of change are proposed as key measures. A research example is given that describes the evolution of the policy of privatization and market managerialism of social care services in England. When compared to other models of public policy evaluation like punctuated equilibrium theory, complexity places more emphasis on the overall instability of the policy environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-419
Number of pages19
JournalPublic Management Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

© 2008 Taylor & Francis


  • complexity
  • evaluation
  • policy systems
  • time series


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