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Embedding the Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (CECAN) guidance into government practice through development and delivery of support and capacity building activities

Start date

January 2021

End date

December 2021

Project website



The Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (CECAN) has been transforming the practice of policy evaluation across the food, energy, water and environmental domains, to make it fit for a complex world. They have achieved this through pioneering, testing and promoting innovative policy evaluation approaches with UK Government departments.

The CECAN team comprises social scientists, policy makers, policy analysts and experts who all share a common goal to improve policy evaluations for the better. Since 2016 they have been working closely with Government to develop, test and build capacity to use novel methods of policy analysis and evaluation.

The aim has been to develop approaches that are better able to deal with the complexity of natural and social systems. Significant progress has been made to capture CECAN’s insights, including notably in the Annex to the Magenta Book (central government’s guidance on policy evaluation) Handling Complexity in Policy Evaluation.

This Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) funded project was performed in order to consolidate the impact of CECAN by developing a high-quality training/support/capacity-building offer to embed these insights and methods in the practice of policy analysis and evaluation across both Government and the wider evaluation community. Dr Dione Hills from The Tavistock Institute and Helen Wilkinson from Risk Solutions, were two of the CECAN team who were working to transfer CECAN's policy insights into practice.



Embedding CECAN’s insights in the practice of policy development and evaluation would result in more effective government policy, avoiding the costs of ineffective or counterproductive policies and consequent social, environmental and economic impacts. Early soundings of potential users indicated this needs to move beyond a traditional model of one-off training courses to a process of capacity building based on an ongoing relationship and support to target users. This IAA project has allowed us to progress this work which stalled due to a lack of resources.

This project intended to develop the existing ideas for a novel approach to capacity building, start delivering this offer and transition in time to it running as an economically viable standalone activity. We were keen to explore a subscription-based model to provide support which may be one of wider relevance to knowledge transfer from research to practice.

The offer was developed from the following elements:

  • A webinar series
  • One-to-one coaching
  • Complexity challenge drop-in surgeries
  • Facilitated action learning sets.


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