Appreciating Socio-Systemic Complexity Evaluation

Appreciating Socio-Systemic Complexity Evaluation


European School of Governance (EUSG) and
Tamkeen Community Foundation for Human Development (Tamkeen),
joint research note #220330-1 by Karima Kadaoui (Tamkeen) and Louis Klein (EUSG)

Keywords: appreciation, evaluation, metamorphic transformation, systems research, systemic inquiry, humanising social ecosystems

For three years Tamkeen Community Foundation for Human Development and the European School of Governance engaged in a research partnership pursuing what emerged as a socio-systemic complexity evaluation of Tamkeen’s development approach and practice. It had been a more than fruitful learning journey full of surprise for both sides. It brought coherence, resonance, and clarity. It dissolved the “magic” as well as it enchanted the research. It moved from evaluation to appreciation. In the end, we learnt that metamorphic transformation growing from shared understanding surpasses by far what could be described in the prevalent language of change management, leverage, and impact.

We see what we are prepared to see. Everything else comes as a surprise. A sound evaluation comes with an equally sound framework. It guides our gaze and our perception. It prepares us to see what we shall see. Its guiding questions test our ability to respond. Its framework addresses a section of the world. It prepares us to see the world in a specific way. Everything else remains excluded. Everything else only enters our recognition as an experience of surprise.

A socio-systemic complexity evaluation widens our gaze and dilates our perception. It prepares us for the surprise. It is a resonant mirror that allows to re-cognise the surprise in the co-reflection of perception and conception. It is a scientific approach and practice that explores and facilitates the experience of growing a shared understanding.

In 2019 Tamkeen Community Foundation for Human Development was, as requested by their funders and their board, scouting for a third external evaluation. In the more than 10 years of their existence, they had undergone as an additional reflection of their internal evaluation one extended developmental and one formative evaluation. Over the years Tamkeen has been successfully navigating the metamorphic transformation of humanising social ecosystems in communities, schools, and the educations systems. What Tamkeen experienced together with its partners was often described as magical (see Beyond the magic – growing our understanding of societal metamorphosis). Yet, magic is a delusion. Hence, the focus of the third evaluation was on dissolving the magic in the reflecting resonance of systems sciences and growing a shared understanding of the experienced beauty of what Tamkeen called a metamorphic transformation. Tamkeen was looking for an evaluation that was able to integrate, co-reflect and re-cognise the surprise. Tamkeen was reaching out for a resonant scientific perspective that was able to meet the complexity of metamorphic fields, an evaluation that would grow the coherence, the resonance, and the clarity of its development approach, its language, and its practice: a socio-systemic complexity evaluation. In a time when metamorphic transformation was diffusing further and further into the very texture of society, Tamkeen was looking for the encouraging resonant mirror, a mirror that would with scientific integrity facilitate the confidence and certitude of Tamkeen’s approach and practice allowing to meet its responsibility for the way forward.

Systems and complexity sciences seemed to offer the adequate lens to address the interconnectedness and interdependence of social ecosystems and the processes of emergence and dissolvence in metamorphic fields. Though reaching out for the resonance of an external scientific perspective, Tamkeen was very careful and considerate to not reducing itself to a study case by just responding to the questions the external systemic evaluation framework would suggest. Rather than working from the evaluator’s questions, it would be necessary in order to meet Tamkeen to transcend the idea of evaluation as such and work from the questions which are prevalent and relevant in the field. It would be necessary to work from epistemic humility. It would be necessary for the evaluator to come naked.

A classical evaluation or a development approach, even a systemic one, would come with a language of systems change. It would ask for social innovation, for impact and scalability. It would address performance against budgets and time. And trying to meet Tamkeen in doing so, it would miss the point. The questions needed had to address metamorphic transformation in its own language. It had to embark on and co-create a language that would not conveniently draw back the experiences of metamorphic transformation into familiar boxes.

Metamorphic transformation is a term that emerged from the co-creation practice of Tamkeen and its partners to describe what they experienced. From a research perspective, the term metamorphic transformation can be understood as transcending the project managerial approach to change. It does not think in schedules, budgets, and outcomes. It focusses on “letting things grow” prior to “getting things done”. Embarking on the gentleness of silent transformation, it even transcends the notion of systemic change. It does not analyse for leverage points in social acupuncture of first-order systemic change. The closest we get, using the prevalent language of systems research, is mind shift as expressed in second-order systemic change.

Growing a shared understanding entails learning to see with different eyes. Like in a picture puzzle, perception changes without any line on the paper changing. Like in Wittgenstein’s legendary duck-rabbit we learn to see two different images from the same arrangement. Yet, seeing how you see lays at the very heart of a socio-systemic complexity evaluation, as well as co-creating a language for the recognised.

To understand metamorphic transformation, it was necessary to go from evaluation to appreciation. By appreciating manifestations of a metamorphic transformation instead of evaluating preconceived deliverables, outcomes, and outputs a socio-systemic complexity evaluation allows for dissolving the notion of externalities. Appreciation embraces serendipity and flow and recognises not only what was planned for. In the interconnectedness and interdependence of metamorphic transformation, it realises and appreciates what emerged. A socio-systemic complexity evaluation facilitates not only learning to see with different eyes but also expanding and deepening our gaze. It facilitates dilating our perception.

Our gaze meets itself in a mirror. Tamkeen is a mirror by nature. Its notion of the mirror is that of a relationship of resonance. It is not that of an echoing reflection. Tamkeen serves as a mirror to its partners, e.g. the communities, the schools, or the education system. The mirror of Tamkeen facilitates a resonance of mutually arising understanding. It is growing a shared understanding of social practices, of change, and governance in social ecosystems be it in groups, communities, organisations, or entire societies. Metamorphic transformation grows from a shared understanding.

Tamkeen may be characterised and modelled as an experience-based, relationship-oriented, co-created, co-facilitated, process of inquiry, learning, and understanding, embedded in epistemic humility, trusting our human potential and our humanity, realising the existentiality of love. In this Tamkeen realises itself as a process of growing a shared understanding. It recognises itself in the mirror of its partners, growing a shared understanding of itself. Adequately, the requirement for a socio-systemic complexity evaluation of Tamkeen was, in scientific terms, a second-order observation, growing a shared understanding of growing a shared understanding of Tamkeen.

The socio-systemic complexity evaluation was the mirror to the mirror. In this mirror to the mirror, Tamkeen met itself. It met itself in the reflection of the relationship with its partners. It reflected itself in the appreciation of the manifestations of metamorphic transformation. Tamkeen recognised and realised coherence, resonance, and clarity as an approach and as a practice.

The socio-systemic complexity evaluation was a co-creation that mirrored Tamkeen as well as it mirrored the research. And as much as it dissolved the magic it enchanted systems research. Systemic evaluation had always been aware of its impact on the evaluated system. Following the Austrian-US-American psychologist, communication theorist, and philosopher, Paul Watzlawick’s bon mot that we cannot not communicate, systemic evaluation learnt that it could not not intervene. Beyond formative and developmental evaluation, the socio-systemic complexity evaluation learnt that it could not not co-create. It became in all scientific integrity a co-facilitator of a process of growing a shared understanding. It became a co-facilitator of Tamkeen.

In the socio-systemic complexity evaluation, Tamkeen realised and recognised itself in the relationships with its partners which constituted in the shared understanding a metamorphic field. Appreciating the emerging manifestations of a metamorphic transformation allowed for dissolving the magic and integrating the surprise. Sustaining its essence Tamkeen supported the emergence of what wanted to come by itself. In recognising and realising the underlying shared understanding, the socio-systemic complexity evaluation and Tamkeen were one.


For more information on Tamkeen and the socio-systemic complexity evaluation connect to the authors at:

Karima Kadaoui

Louis Klein

Tamkeen Community Foundation for Human Development