Organisations & Networks

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

CECAN, a £3m national research centre hosted by the University of Surrey, brings together a coalition of experts to address Nexus issues in policy making and evaluation. CECAN will pioneer, test and promote innovative evaluation approaches and methods across nexus problem domains, such as biofuel production or climate change, where food, energy, water and environmental issues intersect.

Developing Methods

CECAN understands a major challenge of policy evaluation in complex social settings, is the problem of equifinality. We will respond to the different approaches that may be needed, even for the same problem, with a range of methodological solutions which will be applicable to Nexus topics, and other complex social settings.

Applying Methods

CECAN will address the tension between developing evaluation methodologies and ensuring their take up. We are 'challenge-led', testing methodological developments in practice, by scoping complex policy 'case studies' with co-funders, running collaborative evaluation design labs and advising on pilot projects.

Enhancing Knowledge

CECAN will ensure ongoing interaction with co-funders, policymakers, social scientists and other experts, to form a 'community of practice' across Nexus domains. We will remain responsive to funders' needs and continually challenge ourselves, cross-fertilizing knowledge between Government, the private sector and academia.


There is a recognised need to develop a culture of evaluation and evidence based decision making across Government so that civil servants are better able to address the frequent gap between policy development, implementation and subsequent evaluation. CECAN will support the Civil Service Reform Plan to ensure that decision makers have the "skills and expertise they need to develop and implement policy, using up to date tools and techniques, and have a clear understanding of what works in practice."

'What works in practice' can be very difficult to ascertain, especially with policies that cut across the energy, environment and food Nexus domains, where urgent matters such as the 'energy trilemma', loss of biodiversity, climate change, poverty and challenges to health and well being are entangled in complex ways.

CECAN's team is unique, combining outstanding 'real world' complexity and evaluation expertise in applied social settings. Many of us are already embedded in the evaluation and Nexus communities and we have a shared desire to significantly improve the evaluation of public policy. 

Embracing an 'open research' culture of knowledge exchange, CECAN benefits from a growing network of policymakers, practitioners and researchers and a core group of academic and non-academic experts.

The Centre will promote 'evidence based policymaking' by finding ways for the results of evaluation to both inform policy and reflect back onto future policy design - something greatly desired in political and public circles.


  • Economic and Social Resarch Council (ESRC)
    The Economic and Social Resarch Council (ESRC) is CECAN's primary funder. They are the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. They support independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. At any one time they support over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. ESRC are a non-departmental public body and receive most of their funding through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). ESRC research is vigorous and authoritative, as they support independent, high-quality, relevant social science.
  • UK Environment Agency (EA)
    The Environment Agency (EA) work to create better places for people and wildlife, and support sustainable development. They are an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. Within England the EA is responsible for: regulating major industry and waste, treatment of contaminated land, water quality and resources, fisheries, inland rivers, estuary and harbour navigations, conservation and ecology. They are also responsible for managing the risk of flooding from main rivers, reservoirs, estuaries and the sea.
  • UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
    The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is the UK government department responsible for safeguarding our natural environment, supporting our world-leading food and farming industry, and sustaining a thriving rural economy. DEFRA's broad remit means they play a major role in people's day-to-day life, from the food we eat, and the air we breathe, to the water we drink. Their purpose is to unleash the economic potential of food and farming, nature and the countryside, champion the environment and provide security against floods, animal and plant diseases and other hazards.
  • UK Department of Energy & Climate Change
    The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy brings together responsibilities for business, industrial strategy, science, innovation, energy, and climate change. We are responsible for; developing and delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy and leading the Government's relationship with business / ensuring the country has secure energy supplier that are reliable, affordable and clean / ensuring the UK remains at the leading edge of science, research and innovation / tackling climate change.
  • UK Food Standards Agency (FSA)
    We are the Food Standards Agency, an independent Government department. It’s our job to use our expertise and influence so that people can trust that the food they buy and eat is safe and honest. Our work touches everyone in the country.
  • UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
    The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) - is the leading funder of independent research, training and innovation in environmental science in the UK. They invest public money in world-leading science, designed to help us sustain and benefit from our natural resources, predict and respond to natural hazards and understand environmental change. They work closely with policymakers and industry to make sure their knowledge can support sustainable economic growth and wellbeing in the UK and around the world.
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