Capturing complexity in the evaluation of a multi-site area-based initiative in community empowerment: what can ethnography offer?
(University of Liverpool)
Ruth Ponsford (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
Jennifer Popay (Lancaster University)
Paper short abstract:
In this paper we explore the tensions, challenges and opportunities encountered when combining ethnography and systems approaches to capture the tempos and flows of relations and processes in an evaluation of a major multi-site area-based initiative in community empowerment.
Paper long abstract:
Ethnography is recognised as a valuable tool for understanding 'how' interventions work (for example; Khoo 2001). When combined with systems theory, ethnographic approaches have the potential to reveal the complex processes by which interventions embed and co-evolve with the local contexts in which they are implemented and the shifts in relations and interactions that result (Hawe et al 2009). However, such an approach has very rarely been attempted (Durie & Wyatt 2013). In this paper we explore the tensions, challenges and opportunities encountered when combining ethnography and systems approaches in an evaluation of a major multi-site area-based initiative in community empowerment. We consider the value of ethnography in capturing the tempos and flows of relations and processes across multiple field sites and the opportunities this provides for producing "better" evidence about the intervention. We identify temporality as central to the dynamics of the study in multiple ways - both in terms of understanding systems changes as the intervention embeds and in the evaluative framework. Challenges arose from: the complexity of capturing the precariousness of power and relationships; the bringing together of data across multiple sites that were at different stages and progressing at different rates at different times; and the difficulty in producing "generalizable" accounts through the temporary 'interruption' of the researcher. We argue that the temporal (dis-)alignment of fieldwork approaches with intervention processes was crucial to what we were able to know and capture about the nature of the intervention.
Ethnography and evaluation: temporalities of complex systems and methodological complexity