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


March 2016 to March 2019


University of Surrey, Cranfield University, Durham University, Newcastle University, University of Warwick, University of York and Risk Solutions. Additional international co-investigators will be from the European Academy of Technology and Innovation Assessment and Arizona State University.

PSI researchers:

Ben Shaw

Martha Bicket

Ben Fagan-Watson

Peter Barbrook-Johnson

Anna Kaxira

Background, summary and aims

For fuller details and latest news, visit the CECAN website.

Based at the University of Surrey and led by Professor Nigel Gilbert (Surrey) as Director and Ben Shaw (PSI) as Deputy Director,  CECAN has been backed by £2.45 million of funding provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in collaboration with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra); the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC); the Environment Agency (EA); and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Contributing to the design of public policy that can respond to the problems facing society is challenging. Not only are policies difficult to design well, but it can also often be difficult to know whether the policy was successful. Evaluating whether changes have been caused by the policy or for other reasons can be hard to determine. Policy planning and evaluation are especially challenging when social and environmental problems are intertwined. For example, designing and evaluating a policy on the risk of flooding needs close liaison with experts, local authorities and citizens on issues such as coastal erosion, drainage, farming, housing, transport - and the policy needs to be both flexible and robust across these areas. Complex problems require new solutions with special kinds of methods and approaches to study them.

To do this, the Centre will foster an ‘open research’ culture of knowledge exchange founded on a growing network of policymakers, practitioners and researchers. At its core is a strong group of academic and non-academic experts with many years’ experience of working on these kinds of problems.

The Centre’s work will include developing new and enhancing existing methods for the evaluation of policies in complex settings; piloting these methods on a range of evaluation projects; organising educational programmes for practitioners, academics and policymakers; and publishing guides and toolkits for evaluators, those commissioning evaluations, and policy audiences.

In the first year, CECAN will:

* Link to on-going and forthcoming policy evaluations, in order to advise on more advanced or cost-effective approaches that might be used.
* Organise workshops that bring together evidence teams, policy makers and academics to work with CECAN to understand the policy challenge and develop new ways to frame policy evaluation problems;
* Host cross-sectoral seminars on the state of the art of evaluating complexity;
* Initiate training events for evaluation commissioners, practitioners and academics to disseminate emerging lessons quickly;
* Publish short summary and agenda setting briefings on policy design and evaluation in complex settings;
* Publish a guide to what a complexity-sensitive evaluation toolkit might look like. This will become a ‘living document’, updated as knowledge develops.

Overall, CECAN will enable the integration of a complex systems approach into the policy evaluation process and hence contribute to more effective policy-making.