Leading with Local Experts Makes for Better Evaluation

by Heidi Reynolds, PhD. This blog post reflects on the 2019 African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) meeting.

MEASURE Evaluation and D4I booth at AfrEA.
MEASURE Evaluation and D4I booth at AfrEA.
by Heidi Reynolds, PhD, Director, Data for Impact Project

I am just back from the 9th African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) meeting, held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, March 11–15. This year’s theme was Accelerating Africa’s Development: Strengthening National Evaluation Ecosystems. I lead the Data for Impact (D4I) Project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). D4I works to generate strong evidence, strengthen local capacity and performance to generate evidence, and facilitate use of that evidence to improve health programs and policies in low- and middle-income countries. A project with our mandate was of course eager to attend the premier meeting for evaluators on the continent!

Meetings of evaluators typically cut across sectors—health, education, climate change, etc.—and offer useful lessons applicable in multiple sectors. Other scientific perspectives offer different types of learning. For example, a leading global evaluator, Michael Bamberger, highlighted the need for evaluators to build bridges with data scientists and to develop expertise in analytic techniques used in data science. While our field will benefit from stronger links, so will theirs—especially from our attention to data quality, privacy, and ethics.

One thematic point stood out for me: African evaluators are the ones who understand which methods work in African contexts and the cultures, politics, and history unique to those contexts. African evaluators make evaluations more relevant and appropriate to the challenges that evaluators need to address.  

This is not a new realization, of course. But sometimes international players are so wrapped up in accounting for funds to governments and boards that we deemphasize the need—no, the mandate—to support priorities of African origin. Similarly, for those of us based in institutions outside Africa, we are often distracted from our true mission as we try to demonstrate to our donors that we are good stewards of taxpayers’ money. The AfrEA meeting reinforced for me that we must also ensure we are good stewards of the expertise that exists among African-based institutions and experts.

Sheila Mensah from USAID’s West Africa Regional Mission presented a model that resonated with me. A priority of the West Africa regional bureau is to support AfrEA and e-learning platforms. She described the USAID-funded Evidence for Development (E4D) project that works to promote cost-effective and culturally appropriate evaluation in the West Africa region. E4D uses virtual interaction, coaching, and mentoring opportunities for peer-to-peer learning. It conducts annual capacity assessments to monitor progress of local organizations. Whenever possible, it includes not only a local evaluator as lead but also a local financial person on the team who can learn what’s needed to meet USAID financial requirements. Capacity strengthening can be built in as a requirement of scopes of work or requests for proposals.

I was gratified that E4D is using many approaches that we promote under D4I. But, more important, I come away from the meeting more inspired, with better ideas, and with new contacts to ensure that D4I uses its resources to support African-led evaluation.

For more information: www.data4impactproject.org

Republished from the Evaluate blog.