Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (CECAN)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Sociology


Responding to the increasing recognition of complexity of policy and policy implementation, CECAN produced innovation in policy evaluation for policies relating to energy, food, water and the environment (the 'Nexus'). CECAN developed and extended methods for policy evaluation, established case study based co-production between researchers, evaluation practitioners, policy makers and analysts and evolved an agile, problem driven way of running a multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary centre. While having produced high impact work (see Part 3: Key outputs and impacts to date), the kind of transformation CECAN set out to bring about is not achievable in 30 months. CECAN 2 is a consolidation of previous achievements, and a response to insights gained in the first phase and to new challenges faced by the UK. It will allow the Centre to develop and implement its innovations, knowledge exchange and co-production, with the goal of operating sustainably in the long term.

CECAN 2 is particularly timely as a number of drivers are coinciding to make complexity appropriate approaches to appraisal and evaluation ever more vital. Brexit is the most complex policy and regulatory change in the UK for decades, with associated impacts on the potentially increasingly divergent relationship between the devolved nations. The issue of "big data", both its opportunities and risks, is rarely far from the news, so a key future challenge is data linkage across Government departments and sectors, particularly in the context of public-private partnerships and hybrid models. Indirect and unintended effects are increasingly being demonstrated across the Nexus: for example, declines in rural infrastructure have adverse consequences for both the environment (more car transport) and health/wellbeing (more isolation and loneliness). Larger-scale and longer-term approaches are urgently needed to account for the cumulative impact of policies and "knock-on" effects across sectors. Finally, decision-making in both the public and private sector will be severely impacted by increasing automation, with currently unknown consequences for governance. Current Government management processes are not well-equipped to deal with these multiple challenges and urgently need to have evaluation and complexity thinking more embedded within them. CECAN 2 aims to ensure that the practitioners and policy-makers we engage with are equipped with the best methods to negotiate this future complexity .

The work envisaged for CECAN 2 is organised into five streams:
1: Exploring the contribution that complexity-appropriate evaluation methods can make across the full policy cycle.
2: CECAN Methods Innovation Lab: delivering innovation in complexity-appropriate evaluation methods by exploration of the full range of new and emerging methods.
3: Real world testing and refining of complexity-appropriate evaluation methods to co-produce solutions to the evaluation challenges posed by complexity in policy making and analysis.
4: Building individual and institutional capacity to deliver complexity-appropriate policy analysis
5: Securing CECAN's future, using ESRC's Centre Transition Funding to deepen existing partnerships and build new ones to secure alternative and long-term funding for CECAN's work.

Planned Impact

Following in the footsteps of CECAN 1, impact will be achieved through developing innovative methods and translating them through co-produced case studies, knowledge exchange and capacity building. CECAN has produced high impact research and has set the ball of change rolling. CECAN 2 will allow this nascent change to gather momentum, to push the ball "over the hill" to engender change across the system. It will penetrate new applications, new areas and new audiences to ensure change is rolled out and sustained in the long term.

1. New Areas
Branching out into new policy areas will facilitate the development of more joined up governance and better integration across government departments and associated agencies and organisations. CECAN 2 will help people take advantage of the opportunities complexity offers to manage intractable issues across the Nexus and wider policy areas. Taking the learning from the Nexus, CECAN 2 will work on the application of CECAN methods and concepts to the current long term goals in industrial and environmental policy areas. The complexity appropriate, systems-based thinking will be particularly important during the Brexit process: CECAN 2 will take on the challenges that Brexit brings to policy making so impacting on the complex regulatory disentanglement of the UK from the EU.

2. New Applications
CECAN 2 will widen the impact from the evaluation part of policy making to develop complexity appropriate policy appraisal and monitoring. It will go beyond the policy programme level and think strategically about the policy cycle as a whole to produce an integrated complexity appropriate policy framework. CECAN 2 will also go down into the policy delivery level, bridging the divide between policy researchers, analysts and decision makers.

Departmental and everyday work constraints can make it difficult to look at problems and their solutions across different scales. CECAN 2 will provide a learning space to allow people to break out of organisational and disciplinary silos. Through the integration of a wider set of policy areas and the whole policy cycle, CECAN will improve efficiencies and save money to deliver better outcomes through complexity responsive, agile policy making.

3. New Audiences
Defra and BEIS will remain at the centre of CECAN. However, the work on the Nexus has shown that a wider set of policy areas needs to be incorporated, by going beyond the government departments currently involved. This expansion has already begun with bespoke training courses delivered to the Department for Education, a CECAN fellow working with the Department of Health and Social Care and collaborations with the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

CECAN 2 will also go beyond the public sector. We have already begun this process of extending our network and it will be accelerated during CECAN 2. We have begun work with Anglian Water and for CECAN 2 we envisage working with NESTA, the National Trust, the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and management consultancies such as Deloitte, KPMG and PwC, often as expert partners within consortia bidding for evaluation contracts. We also intend to work with multinational bodies such as the EU, the World Bank and the UN in relation to the SDGs.

To summarise, building on impact from CECAN 1, the proposal for CECAN 2 is driven by the recognition that the long term, radical change needed for complexity appropriate policy making needs to integrate the whole of the policy cycle and new policy areas; this automatically leads to the involvement of new audiences. CECAN 2 sees complexity as an opportunity for more joined up work across government departments, agencies and organisations, helping to reduce replication and waste and allowing for more responsive, agile and efficient policy making.


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