From Tarek Azzam in Accra, Ghana: I have had the opportunity to attend many conferences in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. All were informative and invigorating in their own way, but the AfrEA conference was different. The issues facing the African continent are immense. Yet I was continually uplifted by the determination, skill, and caring of the people working to make a difference. It reminded me that evaluation can be more than an academic exercise or bureaucratic requirement. Evaluation can be a fundamental tool for development that carries with it our future aspirations for democracy, equity, and human rights.
This is exemplified by the evaluation efforts of Slum Dwellers International (SDI), an organization in which evaluations are carried out by and for the people living in 35 different slums across the world. SDI mobilizes its members through the practice of evaluation—they collect interviews, surveys, and other forms of data and use that information to directly negotiate with governments to improve the conditions of their communities. SDI has over 4 million members who have created a culture in which evaluation knowledge is power.
I was intrigued by the World Bank’s evaluation capacity building efforts. Along with other partnering organizations, they are working on a new initiative to establish evaluation training centers across the African continent and other developing regions. They will be called CLEAR centers (Regional Centers for Learning on Evaluation and Results) and eventually hope to establish them as degree granting programs that offer MAs and perhaps even PhDs in monitoring and evaluation. There appears to be support for the initiative but it remains to be seen what the final program will look like.
My fellow presenters and I had the opportunity to share the results of our workshop as part of a conference panel. The session was not as well attended as the workshop (approximately 10 people) but the conversations were productive. We discussed the list of evaluator competencies and principles that we generated. The reaction was positive and we have been given the responsibility of taking the next step. It feels like a big step. There tends to be more talk than action in the development community. I don’t want this to fizzle out. Thankfully, there are workshop participants and presenters who are eager to push the work forward with me.
Now that the conference is over, I have been reflecting on the experience. More than ever I believe that we, as a field, can have an enormous impact on the governments, institutions, communities, and people dedicated to improving the lives of others. That is why I got into evaluation, and the last few days have reinforced my commitment to the field.
Thank you for following my blog posts. And thank you to John Gargani for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences at AfrEA.
5 responses to “The African Evaluation Association Conference Comes to a Close (#4)”
A big “thank you” for your blog from all of us who could not attend the AfrEA conference and workshops. It’s great to network and reclaim that spark of excitement and commitment from interacting with others who are doing good work.
I would like to offer my experiences and time to help move things forward with the work you described in your workshop. I am a medical anthropologist with training in nutritional sciences and public health. I’ve worked on maternal/child survival issues (currently malaria reduction in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, earlier on ARIs in Turkey). Get in touch if you’d like (email@example.com).
A few thoughts in the meantime:
One of the keys to successful health & development programs (including poverty reduction), I believe, is to build M&E into the infrastructure and plans from the start, and use a participatory approach so that those responsible for programs have M&E experts & personnel-in-training on board from the start.
Additionally, I believe that guidelines and principles in the abstract may be useful, but even more important is to create suc support that is program- or project-specific. (Later, projects using different criteria could meet to determine which criteria, processes and indicators are most useful to program planners, implementers and beneficiaries.
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Thank you for sharing this valuable information from Africa. I had a chance to assess results-based M&E capacity of the key federal and state ministries and suggest plan to develop their capacity. I notices that there is some will among government officials and the civil society to have an effective evaluation system. But at the same time many do not want such system to hide corruption. Other countries in the region are aslo aspiring to introduce results-based M&E and have taken some initiatives. But I strongly believe that a menaingful and effective results-based M&E system requires a polititical will, commitmet and accountability, and most importantly a political stability. These important ingradients are lacking in most of the African countries. The invovement of ultimate beneficiaries (the communities) is equally important, that requires a participatory M&E. Thanks
A big thank you from me too (student from Sweden)
You are welcome–and thanks for keeping up with the blog.