From Tarek Azzam in Accra, Ghana: Yesterday was the first day of the AfrEA Conference and it was busy. I, along with a group of colleagues, presented a workshop on developing evaluation capacity. It was well attended—almost 60 people—and the discussion was truly inspiring. Much of our conversation related to how development programs are typically evaluated by experts who are not only external to the organization, but external to the country. Out-of-country evaluators typically know a great deal about evaluation, and often they do a fantastic job, but their cultural competencies vary tremendously, severely limiting the utility of their work. When out-of-country evaluators complete their evaluations, they return home and their evaluation expertise leaves with them. Our workshop participants said they wanted to build evaluation capacity in Africa for Africans because it was the best way to strengthen evaluations and programs. So we facilitated a discussion of how to make that happen.
At first, the discussion was limited to what participants believed were the deficits of local African evaluators. This continued until one attendee stood up and passionately described what local evaluators bring to an evaluation that is unique and advantageous. Suddenly, the entire conversation turned around and participants began discussing how a deep understanding of local contexts, governmental systems, and history improves every step of the evaluation process, from the feasibility of designs to the use of results. This placed the deficiencies of local evaluators listed previously—most of which were technical—in crisp perspective. You can greatly advance your understanding of quantitative methods in a few months; you cannot expect to build a deep understanding of a place and its people in the same time.
The next step is to bring the conversation we had in the workshop to the wider AfrEA Conference. I will begin that process in a panel discussion that takes place later today. My objective is to use the panel to develop a list of strategic principles that can guide future evaluation capacity building efforts. If the principles reflect the values, strengths, and knowledge of those who want to develop their capacity, then the principles can be used to design meaningful capacity building efforts. It should be interesting—I will keep you posted.