I am taking your question on challenges in evaluation from a broad/philosophical perspective.
The question begs us to scrutinize, the many reasons why we should evaluate interventions, plans, programmes, projects, strategies, policies, processes, and so forth. The reasons give us an indication of the hoped-for benefits expected from evaluation. We should remember that there should be at the minimum, a set of principles shared by the evaluation team and the target groups/object for the evaluation should we desire a purposeful/impactful evaluation. As such, we can categorize the challenges as technical and non-technical. This response focuses only on these two defined categories.
In the first instance, technical challenges are so many, and this is rightly so, given the multiple realities that exist in this world).
Technical challenges at the very least may be addressed with less difficulty provided the appropriate authority figures are consulted and appraised of what’s at stake as well as the communities affected by the evaluation activities. The saying ‘it matters who you know and not what you know’ is closer to the truth that we would dare to imagine. The other challenge that could arise is the degree to which ‘surprises’ are embraced and accommodated before, during, and after the evaluation exercise. Such technical challenges could be addressed through specific agricultural and professional training in evaluation approaches, methods, and processes, among other topics. These trainings would also incorporate elements or aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how the SDGs present big evaluation opportunities at the intersection of food security, agriculture and rural development.
In the second instance, non-technical challenges especially human-human interactions are a feature to deal with. Such interactions partly dictate whether participants in the evaluation exercise would be willing to share information and knowledge to further the evaluation agenda. An analysis of how societies are governed and function in any part of the world sometimes leaves us with wondering whether humans are ever going to get along anytime soon. These short-comings in the human-human interactions call for the need for skills in creativity, people management, negotiation, and cognitive flexibility.
I would want to end this note on a sanguine tone. It is the potential and ability to get along as humans that opens possibilities for the evaluation processes. The exciting thing is that the greater the possibilities opened the richer the human experiences, and consequently, the easier it becomes to realize the objectives of any evaluation exercise and derive meaning from the exercise. Evaluation should after all be a ‘fun and joyous’ exercise.
Raymond Erick Zvavanyange
YPARD - Young Professionals for Agricultural Development