RE: Using synthesis and meta-analysis to make the most of evaluative evidence: what is your experience? | Eval Forward

I am happy to see this most timely question raised at this time, soon after the previous discussion on the difficulties in ensuring adequate funding for agriculture.

A synthetic approach by definition, involves paying due attention to every influence, positive and negative that bears on achieving a clearly defined objective. In my experience, this seems to be the most difficult thing to achieve even when sufficient material and guidance is clearly available. Let me be explicit.

First of all, there is a common belief that evaluation ought to be on some result with reference to a plan or a 'project specification' if you will. This is akin to checking whether some product meets a manufacturer's specifications and costings. This approach seems to be attractive because of its 'clear-cut' and scientific' nature. But, how useful is this in real life?

When applied, this method would evaluate as successful any 'prestige project' as long as it meets the project specifications and budget. Its inadequacy lies in that it ignores taking into account its utility to its supposed beneficiaries. accruing Such potential benefits depends on the beneficiaries' need for it and their ability to use the project product with sufficient skill. An up-to-date cardiology unit in a remote area of a poor country where health personnel a problem is an example of such a potentially successfully completed but rather a useless project.

A synthetic approach would have ascertained the greatest health needs of the people of such an area, the available man-power, ensured a sustainable funding mechanism, maintenance  capabilities before a project design is undertaken. I firmly believe what is most important is such a pre-project evaluation before one can carry out a meaningful post-project one.

You would have noticed that in a holistic synthetic approach one distinguishes clearly between the 'theoretical' project on paper and the real one that represents people doing their assigned tasks. Without the latter, a project is nothing but paper, but when what is on paper takes into account not only the abilities, but also the frailties of the people involved, it would be justifiable to evaluate a project plan a very useful guide to action.

I know my views are not those of the majority of the experts. But as a synthetist and an analyst, I think my approach is justifiable, for it looks at a project as a set of actions by some people  to enable a target group to achieve some desirable goal in a sustainable way.

Thank you.


Lal Manavado.