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.