Enhancing evaluations of complex food security programs operating under climate change



Lam, Steven

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University of Guelph


Complex, multicomponent programs are increasingly required to address food security challenges, especially in the context of the climate crisis. While program evaluation has the potential to improve food security program design, minimal guidance exists on how to evaluate complex programs. This dissertation research explored strategies for assessing complex food security programs and opportunities for evaluation to examine climate change, drawing on several knowledge syntheses and a qualitative study of an ongoing food safety program in Vietnam called SafePORK. First, a review was conducted to systematically identify and examine studies reporting on community-based food security monitoring. This review characterized community-based food security monitoring programs globally and underscored the need to understand how program evaluation tools can consider climate change. Then, another review was conducted to systematically explore considerations of climate change within food-related evaluation reports of United Nations agencies. This review showed that progress toward mainstreaming climate action in evaluation is slow. Additionally, developing a program theory, or a pathway showing how changes will occur in a particular context, was identified as a promising strategy for considering the interactions of program components with climate change. Next, a third review examined studies reporting on theory-driven food-related evaluations to characterize how and why evaluations considered climate change. This review highlighted knowledge gaps of how climate change influenced program outcome pathways or how programs operated under climate change. Finally, a qualitative study of a food safety program applying theory-driven evaluation explored the experiences of researchers and program participants (n=30 interviews). Researchers found the process of developing the program theory helped them to document and navigate through the adaptive nature of complex programs. Program participants (slaughterhouse workers and pork retailers) shared how they were adapting to the impacts of climate change, which was an important factor that was overlooked within the design of the program. Taken together, this dissertation research provides insights around how climate change could be better integrated into evaluation processes.



climate change, program evaluation, food security, theory-driven evaluation, United Nations, Vietnam