Ethnography and evaluation: temporalities of complex systems and methodological complexity

Sue Lewis (Durham University)
Joanna Reynolds (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)
Science Site/Engineering E102
Start time:
5 July, 2016 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Ethnographies in/of evaluations of multi-sited interventions in complex systems raise key methodological questions for ethnographers. How do we capture, analyse and write about different tempos and flows of change across different contexts when seeking to evaluate and produce generalizable accounts?

Long abstract:

Complexity', writes Strathern, 'is intrinsic to both the ethnographic and comparative enterprise' (2004). Ethnography as comparative methodology should be suited to the evaluation of large, multi-sited interventions acknowledged as events in complex systems (Hawe et al, 2009). Further, if the aim is to understand change (in whatever is the object of interest) over time, anthropology, with an epistemology based in "one long conversation" (Gow, 2011), should be suited to the purpose too. Temporality offers a lens through which to explore intersections and tensions from aligning evaluation and ethnographic endeavours to understand 'complex' change processes. Both ascribe to longevity as markers of quality and legitimacy of 'knowledge production', though rest on different assumptions: ethnography requires extended time in the 'field' to explore 'complexity'; evaluations aspire to extended periods of 'follow-up', to confirm the validity of effects. Further temporal complexity comes with multiple research teams and contexts, creating challenges for the conduct and writing of ethnographies which remain sensitive to the tempos and flows of change in each site, but that contribute to an amalgamated (and 'generalised') body of 'evidence' of effect. Questions to be addressed include: How might ethnography attend to or capture the different flows and tempos of relations and processes around a complex intervention? How do we capture, explore, analyse and write about different tempos of change across different sites, when seeking to evaluate and produce more "generalizable" accounts of the effects of an intervention? What tensions arise from trying to incorporate ethnography into evaluation on such scales?