1st Edition

Changing Bureaucracies Adapting to Uncertainty, and How Evaluation Can Help

Edited By Burt Perrin, Tony Tyrrell Copyright 2021
    248 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    248 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In Changing Bureaucracies, international experts provide an unparalleled look at how public sector bureaucracies can better adapt to the reality of unprecedented levels of uncertainty and complexity, and how they can better respond to the emerging needs and demands of citizens and beneficiaries. In particular, they discuss in detail how evaluation can play an important role in aiding bureaucracies in adapting, while noting that the value of evaluation is not at all automatic.

    Written in a clear and accessible prose, the contributors identify stability as a strength of bureaucratic structures, although adaptability is required in order to remain relevant. They also emphasize the need for bureaucratic rules and practices to be open to examination, such as through evaluation, noting that these rules may take on a life of their own, increasing distrust and conflicting with a meaningful focus on how outcomes and impacts benefit citizens. The book concludes with guidance for both evaluators and for public sector leaders about steps that they can take to improve the responsiveness and relevance of public sector organizations.

    Pioneering the provision of reflections on how evaluation can play an important role in aiding bureaucracies in adapting, Changing Bureaucracies is an important acquisition for public sector leaders, evaluators, evaluation managers and commissioners and academics alike.


    Kathryn E. Newcomer

    1. Introduction: Changing Bureaucracies – Thoughts on the Dynamic Relationship between Evaluation, Bureaucracy, and Adaptability

    Tony Tyrrell

    Part 1: Working within Bureaucratic Constraints

    2. Feedback in Public Agencies: A missing Engine of Organizational Learning?

    Karol Olejniczak & Jakub Rok

    3. Evaluation, Bureaucracy, and Agility: An African Story

    Jacques Toulemonde and Samer Hachem

    4. Accountable for Adaption: How Independent Evaluation Can Support Adaptive Programming within Bureaucracies

    Andrew Koleros

    5. The Public Support of Radical Innovation

    Margaret Dalziel

    Part 2: Evaluation Support to Bureaucracies

    6. Evaluation in Bureaucracies: An Insider’s View on Progress in the Last 25 Years and Challenges Ahead

    Veronica Gaffey

    7. You Can Take a Horse to Water, But How do You Get it to Drink? Evaluation as a Facilitator of Organizational Adaptation and Change in the OECD

    Kevin Williams

    8. The View from the Top: Reflections on Evaluation in Large Bureaucracies by a Select Group of Senior Evaluation Managers

    Richard Boyle and Tony Tyrrell

    Part 3: Challenges to a Meaningful Role for Evaluation 

    9. Evaluation Systems and Bureaucratic Capture: Locked in the System and Potential Avenues for Change

    Estelle Raimondo and Frans L. Leeuw

    10. Responses to Decline: The Persistence of Quality Problems

    Kim Forss and Alison Pollard

    11. The European Cohesion Policy: Who Cares About Results?

    Francesco Mazzeo Rinaldi

    12. Conclusion: The Problematique of Bureaucracy and What This Means for Evaluation – and for Public Sector Leaders

    Burt Perrin


    Burt Perrin is an independent consultant and recognized leader in the evaluation field internationally, with publications including evaluation and bureaucracy, meaningful approaches to accountability, how to make evaluation useful, and evaluation of innovation. He has over 40 years’ practical experience assisting governments and other organizations internationally, more recently providing expert advice and quality assurance regarding planning, evaluation management and activities, and related services.

    Tony Tyrrell is an independent consultant with more than 25 years’ experience in evaluation and related fields. Tony’s early experience in evaluation was with the European Social Fund Evaluation Unit where he produced influential evaluations various subjects including early school leaving and local development. Tony later worked with a number of private consulting firms on strategic, policy, and program evaluation and on performance management. More recently he spent six years with the Independent Evaluation Group at the World Bank Group (WBG) where he worked on various strategic, thematic, and country evaluations. Tony now works as an independent consultant with various clients including the WBG, the Asian Development Bank, 3ie and others. Tony holds an MSc in Management (Organization Behavior), and an MA in English Literature.

    "This book identifies how evaluation can be undertaken in order to minimize bureaucratic "capture" as well as bureaucratic disinterest in evaluation. It offers practical guidance to evaluators – but also to senior managers within bureaucratic structures. If bureaucracy is said to be necessary for the organisation of democracies, evaluation  can help it to become more adaptive and less rigid. ... While this book is not the first on this topic, it offers a richness of perspectives, and in particular, practical guidance based upon experiences and perspectives provided throughout the book."

    Thomas Delahais and Antonin Thyrard, Quadrant Conseil

    "This volume discusses in an accessible way how evaluation [research] can help public service organisations in better responding to the rapidly changing contexts within which they need to operate. … It represents a useful contribution to the discussion about the role that evaluation can play in increasing the added value of policy."

    Jedid-Jah Jonker, Beleidsonderzoek Online

    "What a timely book! Here we are starting a fresh year (at the time of writing) with concerns about the role of evidence in public policy and the need for responsive bureaucracies at the forefront of public policy debate. It is perfect timing for a book that explores these issues within the context of evaluation. The push for improved use of evidence, organisational learning and evaluative thinking in public policy around the world is well captured in this book with contributions from a wide range of very experienced evaluators."

    Rick Cummings, Evaluation Journal of Australasia

    "The book offers both leaders in national and international organizations, evaluators, and public administration and evaluation scholars a great overview of the role of evaluation in bureaucracies, since it contributes to the understanding of bureaucratic complexity that both public administration and evaluators have to face. It is also impressive how this volume brings together all the relevant research on each topic and underlines it with empirical material on evaluations. This book really stands out due to the many empirical examples of conducted evaluations, which is hardly surprising as the authors consist of a fine group of evaluation scholars. The book’s biggest contribution is its plea for a change in the understanding of evaluation as an instrument of organizational learning in bureaucracies. The editors managed – despite dealing themselves with a great uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic – to provide an exceptional contribution to how evaluations can help change public administrations. The authors do not only illustrate what goes wrong, but actively show the institutional scope that public managers and evaluators possess...this book is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in the study of public administration and evaluation."

    Pirmin Bundi, International Review of Public Administration

    "This book deals with the relationship between bureaucracies and evaluators, analyzing and synthesizing experiences corresponding to different contexts...Although the book is focused on the learning of organizations and the contribution that evaluation can make to it, it also includes some discussions on accountability, and on the relationship between learning and accountability...Drawing lessons from experience, based on case studies, literature reviews, and interviews with experienced evaluators...this book, properly compiled by Burt Perrin and Tony Tyrrell, can be very useful for public administrators and particularly for evaluators of public policies, programs and projects, in order to improve the functioning of bureaucracies so that they respond more appropriately to citizen demands."

    Osvaldo Feinstein, Gestión y Análisis de Políticas Públicas

    "If you think bureaucracies are incapable of learning and change, read this book. The book’s editors and chapter authors commendably address how evaluation can influence the role and effectiveness of bureaucratic institutions by using evaluation to support adaptive and emergent strategy, innovation, and organizational learning, in addition to highlighting ways to enhance evaluation use and evaluative thinking. It is good to see a book that draws so well on current conversations and ideas about the future of bureaucracies."

    Hallie Preskill, Managing Director, FSG

    "Changing bureaucracies? Oxymoronic. Adapting to uncertainty? Sisyphean. How evaluation can help. Audacious. The future: Waves of interconnected global emergencies -- pandemics, social injustice, growing economic inequities, climate crisis, unsustainable use of the Earth's resources. The way forward: If there be one, must include changed bureaucracies that use evaluation to adapt to uncertainty. Can it happen? This book provides hope, not certainty, not simplicity, but cumulative evidence and argument amounting to hope. No small thing in these troubled times. This book will engage you in considering the possibilities for such an oxymoronic, Sisyphean, audacious, visionary, and essential future."

    Michael Quinn Patton, author of Blue Marble Evaluation

    "Almost by definition, evaluation interacts with bureaucracy. In these times of increasing complexity and rapid change, this book credibly explores those interactions and challenges, and discusses ways forward for a more productive relationship. The authors bring impressive and varied experience to bear on the issues, with the result: lots of great reading!"

    John Mayne, Advisor on Public Sector Performance