RE: The pervasive power of western evaluation culture: how and in what ways do you wrestle with ensuring evaluation is culturally appropriate and beneficial to those who legitimise development aid? | Eval Forward

Thank you very much Ana Urgoiti for highlighting the EvalIndigenous guidelines that I use in my work.

As a founding member of the global EvalIndigenous network (, I am helping indigenous communities and evaluators across the world to have their voices heard in the social and economic development processes and get their human rights respected. I focus on the bottom-up approach of working more with people at the grassroot level to empower them with evaluation skills. 

For democracy to be sustained, peace to be enjoyed across the world and the successful implementation of the SDG, there is need for an all-inclusive approach in evaluation. I and my fellow indigenous evaluators are increasingly advocating to other evaluators and development institutions that indigenous communities can be both learners and teachers. We work with indigenous communities that are on the margins of the global evaluation system.

No one should be left behind in the development and evaluation processes. High net worth communities or global north do not have a monopoly on knowledge and solutions to global challenges. The global north has the highest consumers of global products and contributors to climate change. Many of the challenges being faced by indigenous communities around the world can be placed squarely on the global north. The evaluation system is dominated by Global North-western-patriarchal-white-privileged notions of inquiry (as evidenced, for example, in ‘Evaluation Roots’). It has for a long time been complacent with the failed democracy and paradigm of development that has brought the planet to the brink of catastrophe. We are a global village, and the majority is fighting for an end to the systematic racism and other -isms of leading global developmental systems. We need change in the way we practice evaluation. Indigenous knowledge gave us the principles of relating to each other and with our environment. Much of the SDGs are found in the indigenous communities’ way of life. The African indigenous way of life is based on the Ubuntu philosophy that teaches us to love each other (I exist because you exist) and our planet.

Here in Zambia, I have noted that there are many communities where they are development interventions by NGOs and the government, but the locals or beneficiaries are not involved in the designs, implementations, and evaluations of these interventions. We have had slavery, colonialism and now political independence but the majority of people still leave in the era of slavery. The Royal Establishments and elites (including evaluators) seem complacent in the paradigm of under development. Democracy has been captured by a few and evaluators are part of the justification system. May I remind those who were hailing South Africa as a champion of M&E in Africa that it was much like the veneer of Christianity. Indeed, there was an evaluation department in the Office of the President. However, did that change Jacob Zuma from treating South Africa and his cronies that captured the government businesses from treating the country like a personal chiefdom? Across, in Zimbabwe with the highest number of educated people in Africa was brought to economic ruins by the best educated President in the world, Robert Mugabe. Here in Zambia, we set up a Ministry of National Development with an evaluation wing. The ministry was scrapped in late 2021 and evaluation shoved to the dark corner of the Ministry of Finance.

The evaluators dash in for a few days wearing the local wrappers (chitenge), to shake hands with the elders and nod politely in what they believe is a cultural response way and tick their evaluation checklists. Even Africans that take such field visits tend to behave like sociologists from the land of ice and where the sun does not go to sleep for six months. They let project officers parade to them beneficiaries that were selected by the officers to talk well about the projects. They talk with civil servants about good governance and implementing this or that global agenda and are taken to places where they can take selfies to show that they were in Zambia and raced a cheetah but have no time to walk out of the airconditioned offices and cars to the villages to ask what the ordinary citizen thinks about all those indicators on good governance and implementation of the SDGs by their government. Therefore, we tend to have evaluations and researches that are very much detached from the realities of the majority of people in the communities. The reports are graphically and statistically impressive but worth less than a dry cob of shelled maize or village toilet tissue to an ordinary citizen.

We have indigenous evaluation systems. However, the current evaluation practices totally ignore them. Those who are aware about them and would want them used have no power to insist on their use. The development of the national evaluation system is donor driven. Though the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid effectiveness has a principle of transferring ownership to the locals, not much has changed in the past two decades. African states and the African Union are too reliant on external funding for M&E. Believing it’s a ritual to be practiced for show to external institutions that there is good governance. They are not champions for the Made-in-Africa Evaluation Methodologies. VOPEs on the African continent talk about the local methodologies in conference and academic spaces but cannot defend to use them in practice. They mainly struggle with the challenge of sustaining their daily operations. African VOPEs do not survive on mobilising resources for their operations from members or local philanthropists. They cannot even afford to ensure that evaluators conduct evaluations of high quality and protect the interests of all stakeholders.

Therefore, EvalIndigenous has prepared a short guide to help Indigenous and tribal communities that may not be able to effectively participate in the developmental and evaluation processes in their communities. It is not my document but a product of EvalIndigenous. These are questions that they may want to ask institutions and evaluators that come to work with them. These ten questions can be found on the below links:


EvalIndigenous is a multi-stakeholder partnership formed as part of EvalPartners and built on the foundation of the knowledge and expertise of indigenous peoples around the world. EvalIndigenous seeks to bring awareness to, include, and celebrate the cultural traditions and values, languages, legal/political governance practices, and ways of life of Indigenous peoples wherever they live. Our focus is to ensure that policies and evaluation practices for Indigenous peoples are based on equity, fairness and justice. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) frames our work, moving from an evidence-based focus towards a shared global understanding of good practice for Indigenous peoples and our rights within the field of evaluation. Part 1 of Article 31 of UNDRIP states,

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures... They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.


The programs implemented in Indigenous communities are evaluated using transient evaluators. They are unfamiliar with the cultural realities, protocols and community contexts.  It is now time for Indigenous peoples to reclaim their evaluative frameworks and processes in order to strengthen and make evaluation more authentic in both Indigenous and nonindigenous communities. It is time to recognise what has been done to bring both worldviews together, to provide an authentic approach to cultural responsiveness.

John T. Njovu

Atlas Project Coordinator - Africa and Asia 
Member - Global Indigenous Evaluation Task-force (EvalIndigenous)
Member - UNEG - EvalPartners' 2021 Global Forum Organising Taskforce 
Honorary Member - Zambia Monitoring and Evaluation Association (ZaMEA)
Life Member - The International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS) 
Former Treasurer - African Evaluation Association (AfrEA)
Former Chairperson - The Governance Monitoring and Evaluation Committee of the Government of Zambia