Thursday, 10 September 2020

Know what you need to know

Evaluations often come with terms of reference (TOR) that discourage even the most intrepid evaluator. A frequent issue are long lists of evaluation questions that oscillate between the broadest interrogations – e.g. “what difference has the project made in people’s lives” – to very specific aspects, e.g. “what was the percentage of women participating in training sessions”. Sometimes I wonder whether such TOR actually state what people really want to find out.

I remember the first evaluation I commissioned, back in the last quarter of the 20th century. I asked my colleague how to write TOR. She said, “Just take the TOR from some other project and add questions that you find important”. I picked up the first evaluation TOR I came across, found all the questions interesting and added lots, which I felt showed that I was smart and interested in the project. Then I shared the TOR in our team and others followed suit, asking plenty more interesting questions.

I wonder whether this type of process is still being used. Typically, at the end, you have a long list of “nice to know”-questions that'll make it very hard to focus on questions that are crucial for the project.  

I know I have written about this before. I can’t stop writing about it. It is very rare that I come across TOR with evaluation questions that appear to describe accurately what people really want and need to find out. 

If, as someone who commissions the evaluation, you are not sure which questions matter most, ask those involved in the project. It is very useful to ask them, anyway, even if you think you know the most important questions. If you need more support, invite the evaluator to review the questions in the inception phase – with you and all other stakeholders in the evaluation – and be open to major modifications.

But please, keep the list of evaluation questions short and clear. Don’t worry about what exactly the evaluator will need to ask or look for to answer your questions. It is the evaluator’s job to develop indicators, questionnaires, interview guides and so forth. She’ll work with you and others to identify or develop appropriate instruments for the specific context of the evaluation. (The case is somewhat different in organisations that attempt to gather a set of data against standardised indicators across many evaluations - but even then, they can be focused and parsimonious to make sure they get high quality information and not just  ticked-off boxes.) 

Even just one or two evaluation questions is a perfectly fine amount. Anything more than ten can get confusing. And put in some time for a proper inception phase when the evaluation specialists will work with you on designing the evaluation. Build in joint reflection loops. You’ll get so much more out of your evaluation.


Monday, 13 July 2020

My first hackathon #EvalHack

The International Programme for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) has moved its 2020 summer school on-line. As an extra, it has opened up its online evaluation hackathon to external people - like me. I have taken up the invitation, registering for my first evaluation hackathon. Our group challenge was to develop a prototype for efficiency measurement. This is what we have come up with: Evaluation United. If you like it, scroll to the bottom of that web page and LIKE it; we're in a competition! 

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:

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.

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.