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Africa Evaluation Blog: Encouraging Evaluators to have Multiple Perspectives


Benita Williams

Posted 7 months ago

I’ve worked as an evaluation consultant since the start of my professional career, doing the things an evaluation consultant does: Write proposals, do evaluation work and rejoice when the reams of transformed white paper that I produce actually results in a tangible difference for someone, somewhere. In the course of fifteen years, I’ve responded to a good many evaluation terms of reference, and presented to a few evaluation selection panels. I’ve learnt how to craft proposals and pitch for evaluation jobs like any evaluator would.

Then I got to sit on the other side of the table

A while ago, a private foundation client asked me to do some technical assistance for them. I had to serve as a panellist to help them select an evaluation service provider for an evaluation they put out to tender.

Being on the other side of the conference table was an interesting experience. I only realised how much that experience taught me when I was recently back in that same boardroom pitching for a subsequent evaluation job, to the same private foundation. The brief experience on the other side of the table helped me to appreciate a perspective that I previously did not have. It helped me to become better at understanding how to communicate to a selection panel.

We have to have multiple perspectives

Being able to appreciate multiple perspectives is not just important when you pitch for an evaluation job. The ability to appreciate multiple perspectives is an essential skill of an evaluator.

When doing an evaluation, it is not uncommon for one evaluation to have to provide answers to a donor, the programme implementers and the intended programme beneficiaries. If you have had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of one or more of these, you are probably better equipped to facilitate an evaluation process and provide the kind of evaluation output that truly speaks to them. It might even help you to notice aspects about the evaluand that you otherwise might not have considered.

The benefit of diversity

Realistically, though, this combination of experience in one individual is rare. So that is why it is probably a good idea to work with an evaluation team with a diversity of members. Not only does this provide the opportunity to bring professionals with diverse technical skills and diverse subject content knowledge together, but the diversity of perspectives developed through different experiences may also help to craft better evaluation products and processes.

What does this mean for our professionalisation?

Many Voluntary Organizations for Professional Evaluation (VOPEs) around the world have completed work on competency and ethical frameworks (see this article for a good summary), or are currently involved in codifying expectations for what a good evaluation professional would look like.

The International Organization for Cooperation in Evaluation (IOCE) has a professionalisation project on the go to facilitate sharing, and also has a VOPE Toolkit, which compiles a selection of these guides, standards and frameworks for others to learn from.

The American Evaluation Association is calling for comment on their draft competencies, while the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA) has recently completed a study which I hope will inform the expansion of the South African Government’s Evaluation Competency Framework into something also for those outside of government.

I believe that it is important to ensure that the diversity of technical skills and subject content knowledge as well as the diversity of perspectives are adequately accounted for in the evaluation competency frameworks being developed.

Maybe our competency frameworks should give credit to those who have participated in evaluations as donors, evaluators, programme implementers, target beneficiaries or other types of users in some way – An evaluation gold star for having worn multiple pairs of shoes, if you like. Maybe those who contract evaluation teams should add a criterion that requires that a team demonstrates their diversity of perspectives as one of the selection criteria.

Irrespective of what we include in our frameworks and professionalisation processes, my hope is that we will find a way of encouraging diversity among evaluators, rather than lead towards homogeneity in academic and on the job training. Diversity is a resource that could be used for tremendous good.

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