The ninth annual EvalMENA conference was held in Beirut from 7 to 9 May, under the banner of The future of evaluation in the MENA region in times of change.
The Middle East and North Africa Evaluation Network (EvalMENA) is the regional voluntary organization for professional evaluation. More than 150 evaluation professionals, public servants, government representatives and United Nations personnel attended the three days of workshops and plenary sessions. Eight professional development workshops were offered to attendees on topics ranging from remote evaluation tools and theories of change to the monitoring and evaluation function and a 360-degree view of the opportunities and challenges of working in evaluation in the Arab world.
While some of the plenaries focused on national evaluation capacity and others on evaluation practices in the region, here, we will focus on another subject that took centre stage, namely, the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the profession. How we used to work prior to 2020 is completely different to how we work now. Over the three days, conference attendees discussed, exchanged ideas, and shared knowledge on the topic, which can be summarized into three main points.
Tools and technologies
Gone are the days of travelling deep into the field for repeated face-to-face meetings and data collection involving reams of paperwork. Now, companies, organizations and professionals tend to use new technologies that are efficient, effective and time-saving ‒ think video platforms for interviews and office chats, as well as phone calls, open-source toolkits, and analysis software for processing data. Others are taking it a step further and exploring artificial intelligence for evaluation. Field-based data collection is being replaced by phone calls and/or outsourcing or partnerships, which brings us to the next point.
Previously, the tendency was to hire international consultants and send them to all corners of the world. The wind has changed, thanks in large part to the closure of airports and countless restrictions on travelling, so now, there is much more of a focus on local talent. This has had positive effects, as locals have greater knowledge of context and can do the job just as well as, if not better than their international counterparts. They also save costs on flights, hotels and per diems and speak local and working languages, making it easier to interact with beneficiaries. This all-encompassing local‒international participatory approach is of benefit to all.
We are witnessing a worldwide movement of young and emerging evaluators. Young people bring energy and enthusiasm and are more up to date with ever-changing technological innovations. This, coupled with working from home, has brought young people to the forefront of evaluation. While a lot still needs to be done in terms of youth inclusion, it is undeniable that organizations are embracing this change, be it by hiring young people or advocating for their ideas and actions (a good example is the #eval4action campaign, launched on Twitter, which was the subject of much interaction).
The MENA chapter of the EvalYouth Global Network is a very active one. The EvalMENA 2022 conference supported the participation of several young and emerging evaluators, incorporated a professional development workshop, and held a general plenary session on EvalYouth, enabling young and emerging evaluators in the region to moderate discussions on their experiences and to advocate for their inclusion.
The way forward
Change is good, but so, too, are many of the old ways. As discussed in one of the working groups, a large majority of practitioners are in favour of a hybrid system ‒ a new era in which innovative technologies, localization and youth are taken more into consideration and employed alongside old methods. Technology will not be able to replace qualitative observations from the field. Localization will not replace all the knowledge accrued by international experience. And our youth need mentorship to realize their full potential. In this way, we can pave the way to a new world of evaluation in which old and new work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
What are your thoughts on evaluation beyond COVID-19? Would you agree on the points raised? Would you be in favour of a hybrid system in the near future, or would you prefer to return to the old ways?
To read the conference programme and a description of the professional development workshops: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1il8MSp6YG_DzZ8heSU0BSY-zF1-ddGTu?usp=sharing.
To go to the hosting organization website: www.lebeval.org.
Watch a wrap-up video of the conference: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6938520301131472899