Blue Marble Evaluators

Blue Marble Evaluation Operating Principle 3: Cross Silos

Each week, leading up to the Blue Marble Evaluation book and website launch, we will be introducing a new principle of Blue Marble Evaluation. The first four weeks introduced the four overarching principles. This week we turn to the third of twelve operating principles. Click here to learn about the difference.

Principle: Engage across sectors and issues for systems change.

Basic Premise: Problems are embedded in systems. To target the problem without changing the system of which it is a part is to provide only a partial solution and one unlikely to endure. Moreover, problems are often intertwined. Interconnected problems within and across systems require systems change strategies to have lasting impact. Solving problems piecemeal leads to piecemeal solutions.


  • Changing systems is different from implementing projects. Evaluating systems change is different from evaluating projects and programs. Programs and projects are based on a linear logic of causality. Evaluation of programs and projects follows that linear thinking.

  • Systems consist of interdependent elements interconnected in such a way that a change in one element changes connections with other elements and, reverberating through the set of system interconnections, may change the system. Tracking those changes for evaluation purposes requires mapping methods and ways of capturing changes in system interconnections and their dynamics.

  • Systems thinking applies to situation analysis, intervention design, engagement, implementation, adaptations, and developmental evaluation.

  • Cross-silos design and evaluation tackles multiple issues at once and likely requires a Blue marble team with diverse knowledge specializations and interdisciplinary capabilities.

Photo Credit: Leaflet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Blue Marble Evaluation Principle 1: Global Thinking

Each week, leading up to the Blue Marble Evaluation book and website launch, we will be introducing a new principle of Blue Marble Evaluation. We will start with the four overarching principles. This week, Principle 1: Global Thinking.

Principle: Apply whole Earth, big picture thinking to all aspects of systems change.

Basic premise: Global problems like climate change, worldwide pollution, and global disparities require global interventions and, correspondingly, globally-oriented and world savvy evaluators.


  • Whatever is done, or evaluated, at all levels and for all types of interventions and initiatives, consider its global context and implications both within and beyond nation-state boundaries.

  • Think systemically. Conceptualize systems and evaluate systems changes, not just focus on projects and programs. Connect the local to the global, and the global to the local.

  • Think across silos by examining how issues, problems, and specific interventions may be interconnected. Unpack and bring fidelity to initiatives, organizations, and projects calling themselves “global”. Working on one issue in three countries is not global. What are the various ways in which the designation “global” has meaning?

  • Select appropriate methods for the situation and nature of the targeted systems changes.

  • Time being of the essence, be attentive to varying time horizons by integrating short-term, medium-term, and long-term sustainability considerations while acting with a sense of urgency given climate change and related global trends.

50th Anniversary of the Earthrise Shot

December 24 is the 50th anniversary of the first photo of Earthrise from the moon. Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts -- Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders -- held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. One of those photos showed Earthrise for the first time.

On this celebratory occasion, we are doubling down on the idea of Blue Marble Evaluation, an approach and framework for evaluating global systems change initiatives. Global challenges like climate change, global economic interdependence, and the global food system operate beyond national borders. Global systems change initiatives are intervening from the perspective of a complex, dynamic, and interconnected world system. Blue Marble evaluation is needed to assess the effectiveness of global systems change initiatives. If you are interested in becoming part of the Blue Marble Evaluation Network, please take a few moments to complete a brief survey to help us grow this important work.

Click here to take the Blue Marble Evaluation survey.

Reflections from IPDET 2016

Michael and I recently spent two days with twenty international development practitioners and evaluators at IPDET in Ottawa. They were pioneers in our first two-day workshop on evaluating global systems change, the result of our six-month grant from Faster Forward Fund in support of Blue Marble Evaluators. We started our journey with this video, documenting human migration over time, followed by an icebreaker to get to know one another and share our own migration stories. Participants located themselves in the room based on where they were born and had to introduce themselves without saying the name of the country. Here are some photos and a video of the exercise:


Blue Marble Evaluators describing the place where they were born without using country names. Camera is standing in North America, looking SE towards Australia. 

Blue Marble Evaluators describing the place where they were born without using country names. Camera is standing in North America, looking SE towards Australia. 

Blue Marble Evaluators where they current live or work.

Blue Marble Evaluators where they current live or work.

With this exercise, we were challenging the primacy of national borders, which we believe often get in the way of systems change. In the words of Albert Einstein, "you can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." Next we watched a video of the changing borders of Europe to drive home the idea that national borders are artificial and the result of war, colonialism. We also watched the DNA Journey, a powerful video by Momondo, which shows what our DNA reveals about where we come from. All of this was intended to re-frame our way of thinking from a global perspective. We ended this introduction with the Blue Marble Shot, the first complete photograph of the Earth taken from space in 1972. Each participant also receive a blue marble as a reminder to take the blue marble perspective into their work.

After this introduction and re-framing, Michael walked through the evolution of evaluation into an international field, culminating with 2015 as the International Year of Evaluation. While the focus on building evaluation at the country-level is important, we believe that the next frontier for evaluation is for exaluators to apply a global perspective to their work and build our capacity to evaluation global systems change efforts. At its core, evaluating global systems change involves looking across both sector and national boundaries. 

Over the course of two days, we explored what this might look like through case examples and exercises mapping global issues, diving into systems thinking and complexity concepts, and working with a real-world example from the Global Centre for Pluralism.  Check out the gallery below for some photos of this work.

There are many challenges to evaluating global systems change, but this workshop reinforced our belief that this approach is lacking and necessary, especially in the field of international development. We hope to increase both demand for Blue Marble Evaluators and the supply/availability of them. On one hand, there are already many global initiatives operating, but few have evaluators at the table to inform decision-making and encourage the use of systems thinking and complexity concepts in their evaluation approach. On the other hand, there are even more development projects being undertaken without a global perspective despite the fact that the issues they are addressing are undeniably global. We believe Blue Marble Evaluators can play a role in helping to re-frame these projects and design evlauations that capture the complexity and system-wide implications of this important work. 

Ultimately, what came out of this workshop was the recognition that evaluating global systems change requires Blue Marble Evaluators who understand the historical forces that have shaped the current world system, are committed to developing their cultural competence in order to effectively collaborate and communicate with diverse populations, and bring a unique combination of empathy, humility and the capacity and willingness to speak truth to power in highly politically-charged situations. The first cohort of IPDET Blue Marble Evaluators are tackling a range of complex issues from land rights in the Mekong delta to migration in West Africa, access to anti-retroviral drugs to human security. We hope this workshops laid the foundation for these pioneers to bring a blue marble perspective to their work. 

By Charmagne Campbell-Patton