Sunday, 10 May 2020

Five tips for remote facilitation

Despite the risks and uncertainties associated with independent consulting, I have never felt as privileged as I do now, living in a country with a highly developed, accessible health system, working from my customary home office, and equipped with a decent internet connection and the hardware needed to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. The crisis has been an opportunity to develop my remote facilitation skills. Before, I facilitated the occasional "real-life" workshop in a video conference room with participants in other locations joining us via Skype or the like. I have shared that type of hybrid experience on the Gender and Evaluation community pages. Now I have gone one step further, facilitating fully remote workshops from my home office. I mean interactive workshops with some 5-20 people producing a plan, a strategic review or other joint piece of work together - not webinars or explanatory videos with hundreds of people huddling around a lecturer who dominates the session.

To my delight, virtual facilitation has worked out beautifully in the workshops I have run so far. Good preparation is a key element - as in any workshop. I have distilled a few tips from my recent experience and from the participants' feedback.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Facilitating with care in lock-down situations

In the current situation of (near-) lock-downs, interviews, meetings and group discussions are moving on-line. And so are workshops, with tutorials and useful advice on running on-line workshops popping up all over the place.

If, as a facilitator, you want to make sure all workshop participants make the best of a virtual workshop, the challenges of moving on-line are not just technical. When everybody has to work from home, your workshop enters the participants' households. To express it in terms of systems thinking, your workshop is not confined within the borders of office spaces and working hours anymore; it intersects with a number of household systems: 

Some workshop participants are likely to live alone. Many are likely to live with children, including children who need to be looked after. I know what I am talking about, sharing a flat with a two-year old and his mother. Sometimes he sleeps. But when he doesn't, one of us must look after him - nursery school is closed. That is, none of us can spend the whole day at her computer. 

In this lock-down situation, virtual workshops that run for two, three 6-8-hour days in a row effectively exclude people with infant/toddler/small child care responsibilities. As workshop planners, we need to adjust our thinking and chop our virtual workshops into smaller units, spreading them over more days, to make sure more people can participate. A windfall benefit is more time for the ideas exchanged in the workshop to settle and to mature between sessions - I quite like that! 

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

International Evaluation in Times of the New Coronavirus

What does the surge of SARS-CoV-2 (the scientific name of the new coronavirus) infections in parts of Europe mean for international evaluation? Can we, as evaluators, join the soothing voices of those who say, the current common flu epidemic has killed many more people and there is no reason to change anything in our lives? I don't think so. I would like to remind all of us of the Do No Harm principle: Research ethics require us to carefully weigh the potential benefits of undertaking research (at a given time) against the potential harm associated with it. We can relax about ourselves but we must not endanger others. International evaluations can also be done without international travel.

That is why yesterday, I decided to postpone a case study in an Asian country that has relatively few known coronavirus infections - not because I was worried I would contract the virus, but because I could pass it on to others. I live in Berlin, a city of 3.5 million inhabitants where some 58 cases of SARS-CoV-2 have been detected so far (yesterday's data). That may seem little. But while I formed my decision, it turned out that a close colleague's partner who had been in contact with a Covid-19 patient had developed symptoms of Covid-19 (the name of the disease the virus causes). A few hours later, the Guardian (UK) published an article relating how an apparently healthy British couple contracted SARS-CoV-2 during air travel to Vietnam and left a trail of infected people wherever they went - several places spread across Vietnam. 

The health advice published in Germany is to avoid all unnecessary travel. Evaluations are as necessary as ever - yet, most of the time, postponing them would hardly threaten anybody's existence (apart from evaluators' flow of earnings - a risk entrepreneurs are used to). As a matter of fact, many evaluations happen late anyway because of poor planning - see for instance my 2012 post on evaluation planning

Going on as if there was no public health risk associated with a new, rapidly spreading and potentially deadly virus threatens other peoples' lives, especially in countries where health systems are in poor shape or already overstretched. Especially when travelling to remote regions, we might carry the virus to populations who, by their relative isolation, could be relatively protected if we stayed away. Remember how UN peace keepers introduced cholera into Haiti? Find here the UN Secretary General's apology (2016). The history of colonialism is full of examples of European diseases wiping out previously sheltered communities.

What if the evaluation is really urgent, for instance a condition for subsequent project funding (assuming there is no way to re-negotiate the condition in view of a public health crisis)? Work with national evaluators! Even in organisations that find it vital to have an "international" on their evaluation teams, it is established good practice - even in smaller evaluations - to work with "mixed" national/international teams. See also my post on "two are better than one"

If you, as someone who commissions an evaluation, feel you must have an international consultant on the team, invite her to work remotely: Where internet connections are good, workshops, group discussions and interviews can be accompanied via Skype, WhatsApp or a more secure video messaging service. Data collected by the national evaluation team can be analysed in regular phone conferences. Time and resources permitting, the national team can have all its activities audio-recorded, transcribed (and translated, if needed) in full, so that the remote evaluator can follow closely what is happening. There are many options, which can also come in handy if we get more serious about reducing the environmental impact of international travel. I have used these options in my evaluation practice and they have yielded good results. 

Remember the old saying about development being all about working "ourselves" (in the "global North") out of "our" business? That applies to international evaluation, too: Let's strive to 'localise' evaluation while developing a rich flow of knowledge and skills exchange across the world!





Monday, 17 February 2020

Proud to be Rosa Marina Flores Cruz's mentor

Rosa Marina is the third mentee I present on these pages. Although our mentorship has formally ended, we're still in touch. Rosa has kept me up-to-date on her engagement for indigenous people's rights around the world - most recently at the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership gathering in Antigonish, Canada (November 2019). As with the previous posts, I am presenting Rosa in a written interview. 

(1) What are the main issues that you are currently working on?

I am an Afro-indigenous activist and researcher from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico. I work on topics like rural feminism, environment and energy, and the autonomy and rights of indigenous peoples. I have worked in training projects for community health and human rights promoters, and for the defence of the Right to Free and Informed Prior Consultation. 
Photograph by Shirley Kimmayong


Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Less is more - also in evaluation questions

Writing evaluation terms of reference (TOR) - that is, the document that tells the evaluators what they are supposed to find out - is not a simple exercise. Arguably, the hardest part are the evaluation questions. That section of evaluation TOR tends to grow longer and longer. This is a problem because: Abundant detailed evaluations questions may lock the evaluator into the perspective of those who have drawn up the TOR, turning the evaluation into an exercise with quite predictable outcomes that limit learning opportunities for everyone involved. 

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Proud to be a mentor for Nurshaim Tilenbaeva

Nurshaim Tilenbaeva was my second mentee under the Global Change Leaders Programme. Mentoring Nurshaim, I embarked on a learning journey about about Kyrgyzstan, where Nurshaim lives. I do hope I'll get a chance to travel there! 
Photograph by Kusekhaya

There was one day when I was moved to tears by Nurshaim's honesty in describing difficulties she was facing at the time, at a different work place. Reading her narrative of that conversation now, I remember interviews I have carried out as part of a recent study on gender policies and practice in four German organisations. A couple of persons told me about a leader in their organisation shedding tears in public - which they described as a display of emotional intelligence and an empathetic form of leadership. Interesting! Meanwhile, as I have accumulated more experience in mentoring and coaching, I have learned to empathise differently - but I still get visibly moved when a mentee tells me about her success! And here are Nurshaim's answers to my questions: 

Monday, 4 November 2019

Proud to be a mentor for Kateryna Kravchuk

Five years ago, the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia (Canada) contacted me with a request to mentor a woman who had just graduated from its Global Change Leaders Programme (GCL). The idea was that we would have a one-hour Skype call every two weeks over a six-month period, to support the graduate in her efforts to translate learning from GCL into practice at home. I loved the idea! My first mentee was Kateryna Kravchuk from Ukraine, very close to my home time zone in Berlin.

Mentorships are great learning processes for everyone involved, I believe. I have happily agreed to mentor further GCL graduates since that first experience. Some mentees have answered a short set of questions to present themselves on my blog. I will post a mini-series of menteesin the coming weeks, starting today with my first GCL mentee, in her own words: 
Photograph by Andriy Maksymov
Kateryna Kravchuk - the economist, cultural researcher, focused in strategy, monitoring and evaluation of the projects aimed at improving the quality of life. Her main areas of expertise are community development, responsible entrepreneurship, cultural and creative industries, and cross-sector cooperation. 

(1) What is the main issue - or are the two or three main issues - that you are currently working on?

Currently I am busy with three projects: Creative Enterprise Ukraine (workshops and mentring for young entrepreneurs; keynote speaker for the Gender equality in culture and creative industries research), the evaluation of the UNDP/ADA project “Sustainable local development in rural areas” (two regions in Ukraine) and strategy development for Ivan Honchar Museum – centre for traditional culture in Kyiv. The main issues that are calling me since my childhood and more or less predefine everything I do are:

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Classism in evaluation design

Individual interviews for "important persons", focus groups for "beneficiaries", right? Wrong!

These days I have been reviewing evaluations of projects supporting survivors of traumatising human rights violations in countries that are not quite at peace, or even still at war. One would think that in such circumstances, evaluators would be particularly respectful and careful with their interlocutors, avoiding questions and situations that would make them feel uncomfortable, trigger difficult emotions or cause a resurgence of their trauma. In some cases, the opposite is true:

Monday, 17 June 2019

Small group work - keep it fresh and productive!

It is the early afternoon of the second workshop day; the participants are a bit drowsy from a rich lunch; messages have piled up in their smartphones and some people would prefer to deal with those rather than discussing strategy or whatever the workshop is about. Small group work is on the workshop plan. What can you do to keep it lively and productive?

Friday, 17 May 2019

Two or three reasons why two are better than one

Evaluations come in many shapes and sizes. I have led multidisciplinary teams in multi-year assignments, and carried out smaller assignments all by myself. Last year was a lucky year, because most of my work happened in one of my favourite configurations: the tandem or duo - as in two competent persons with complementary or partly overlapping skills and knowledge working together as evaluators on an equal or near-equal footing. Two evaluators working together - even if one of them participates for a shorter spell of time than her colleague - means so much more than the sum of two persons' capacities. 

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Is there a way to measure efficiency in human rights work?

Jasmin Rocha and I reflect on measuring efficiency in human rights programmes in a new guest post on Zenda Ofir's evaluation blog. Have a look here - and enjoy browsing!

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Why internal evaluations need external perspectives

Internal evaluation can be an excellent way to check the quality of one's work, to track progress (in programmes or projects, for instance) and to gather information for management decisions and longer-term learning. To make the most of such exercises, they should go beyond self-reflection. Especially for small to medium-sized teams or organisations, sitting around a table and contemplating one's strengths and weaknesses, as well as successes and failures, is a good start, but just not enough.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Quick evaluation: What a difference a couple of days make!

You know those evaluations that come with dozens of questions on a whole complicated international development programme (or even set of programmes), to be answered within one week of desk work, one week on-site and one week to tie it all up? They are still around and they are not about to disappear. I used to hate them: The time frame makes it near-impossible to draw reasonably rigorous samples of respondents (for interviews or for a survey) and there is so little you can do and see in a week at the programme site. What can an outsider find out in one week that an insider doesn't know yet? After having worked on a couple of "quick evaluations" in recent months, I have adopted a milder stance. They can generate useful insights. But how? Here are a few tips.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

VEPR Certified

I am delighted to announce that I have been an EES VEPR certified evaluator since autumn 2018. EES stands for European Evaluation Society, VEPR for Voluntary Evaluator Peer Review - a stringent process whereby the evaluator, in cooperation with two experienced international colleagues, identifies own capacities and weaknesses (and ways to deal with the latter) in a documented dialogue that spans over several weeks

Join the EES and try out the process, it really helps to know and hone your assets!

Monday, 1 October 2018

Join us at the EES Biannual Conference

This week, Jasmin Rocha and I will be presenting a paper on stretching the limits of the DAC criteria - in particular, the one on efficiency - to deal with the realities of human rights work. Join us in Thessaloniki on Thursday 4 at 10:30!

For more information on the conference, follow this link.