The old refrain that there are not enough skilled evaluators in Africa has passed its sell-by date. Realizing the need to offer solutions, the Centres for Learning on Evaluation and Results – Anglophone Africa (CLEAR-AA), the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) recently joined forces to develop a tailored Emerging Evaluator Programme.
The work immersion programme was launched in June 2021 during gLOCAL Evaluation Week, bringing six emerging evaluators on board for a year. The programme is taking them on a “deep dive” into evaluation work from different perspectives. For example, with WFP’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa the evaluators have been included in the full evaluation cycle, from planning to dissemination, in 12 southern African countries, while through work spearheaded by CLEAR-AA, they support the co-creation and establishment of monitoring and evaluation systems at national level, engaging with governments and parliaments.
Halfway through the programme, an EvalForward Talks session enabled the emerging evaluators to look back on their experience to date and share some of their insights 1. The following is a summary of the session, complemented by excerpts from diaries that participants kept along the way.
I was excited that I made it into the programme. The journey I have been longing for has arrived. I imagined all the skills I will learn, and I was already daydreaming about myself as an expert in the M&E space Sonny Motlanthe, emerging evaluator, diary excerpt
Why “emerging” evaluators?
The EvalForward session underscored how people can take various avenues to get to evaluation as a profession and that many transition from other careers. Consequently, the programme refers to the evaluators as “emerging”, as it is more inclusive than “young”. The term is not without ambiguity, though. What does it mean exactly? And at what point can one consider oneself to have emerged? There is probably no one answer to this. On the one hand, especially given the limited number of academic programmes and courses available, there will always be professionals entering evaluation from other fields or cutting their evaluation teeth in a range of formal and informal ways. On the other hand, some may not consider evaluation to be a lifelong career, though other experience, such as programme management or research, can be helpful in forging a solid background for evaluation.
The journey towards evaluation
Some participants in the Emerging Evaluator Programme were exposed to specific courses or modules on evaluation during their academic studies, so decided to pursue it as a career. Others started working in different fields and were then attracted to evaluation.
During the session, panellists and participants lamented the limited academic offerings available for monitoring and evaluation, highlighting why short courses and any learning opportunities are so important (and sometimes the only option). Overall, a strong need emerged for information on ways to enhance skills and gain qualifications. A list of references shared on the chat can be found here.
The blurred line between evaluation and research
While evaluation and research share common ground, including many methods used in the social sciences, the two professional paths differ in certain substantive ways. Research is about proving a hypothesis or a theory; evaluation involves value judgement and focuses on applied learning on a specific programme or activity. In addition, evaluation uses theories of change and is often linked more broadly to results frameworks. Participants felt that, overall, there were still a lot of grey areas and that more work needed to be done to distinguish between the two.
Balancing soft and hard skills
Beyond technical skills and professional qualifications, the programme participants highlighted how soft skills should be intrinsic evaluator qualities, alongside broader ethical qualities. One of the speakers observed that, in his experience, evaluators should possess:
- negotiation skills
- facilitation skills
- stakeholder management skills
- respect for diversity
- strategic thinking
- a strong work ethic
Adaptation. I learned that the work will not always be programmed and planned, one must always be prepared for random tasks with urgent deadlines. I was exposed to new evaluation methodologies, such as the Quip methodology. Overall, it's been a learning experience Mayibongwe Mncube, emerging evaluator, diary excerpt.
In addition to meeting five amazing human beings (my fellow emerging evaluators), I got to work with organizations that are bringing change in people’s lives and teams that are making a difference in the evaluation field Yeukai Caroline Tizora, emerging evaluator
Evaluative thinking ‒ from daily life to a career pathway
On a more practical level, but also to highlight the strong relevance of monitoring and evaluation on the ground, one of the speakers noted how we all undertake monitoring and evaluation in our daily lives. For example, when we wake up, we may monitor the weather and make an informed decision on how to adapt to the specific weather situation of the day.
My overall understanding of systems approaches has expanded, in the sense that strengthening the mechanisms or components that lead to the result is often crucial for efficiency and effectiveness. Poor systems and processes result in inadequate results. I imagine it like plumbing. If one of the pipes is blocked, water will move slowly or it might never reach your glass. Identifying what needs to be fixed will be easier if I know how the pipeline is laid out and flows. Stephan Paulsen, emerging evaluator, diary excerpt.
The (aspirational) way forward
Contributions by CLEAR-AA and WFP emphasized how initiatives such as the Emerging Evaluators Programme could be replicated by other institutions in the field to enhance the skills and capacities of evaluators globally.
In a world defined by complexity, particularly in the wake of the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, we do acknowledge that the problem is not simple, and we are not providing a flippant solution to the vast Evaluation Capacity Development [ECD] challenges in our sector. However, we are hopeful that this intervention signals to the ECD community and our development partners that something can be done, in the midst of the systemic challenges facing us in the production and use of evidence. Candice Morkel, Director, CLEAR-AA
Find out more about the session and listen to the recording here: https://www.evalforward.org/webinars/becoming-evaluation-professional