The 2014 Conference of the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) was just opened. Organizers delayed the start of the opening ceremony, however, as they waited for the arrival of officials from the government of Cameroon. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. An hour. More.
This may sound like a problem, but it wasn’t—the unofficial conference had already begun. Participants from around the world were mixing, laughing, and learning. I met evaluators from Kenya, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Europe, and America. I learned about health programs, education systems, evaluation use in government, and the development of evaluation as a profession across the continent. It was a truly delightful delay.
And it reflects the mindset I am finding here—a strong belief that commitment and community can overcome circumstance.
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During the opening ceremony, the Former President of AGRA, Dr. Namanga Ngongi, stated that one of the greatest challenges facing development programs is finding enough qualified evaluators—those who not only have technical skills, but also the ability to help organizations increase their impact.
Where will these much-needed evaluators come from?
Historically, many evaluators have come from outside of Africa. The current push for made-in-Africa evaluations promises to change that by training more African evaluators.
Evaluators are trained in many ways, chief among them university programs, professional mentoring, practical experience, and ongoing professional development. The CLEAR initiative—Centers for Learning on Evaluation and Results—is a new approach. With centers in Anglophone and Francophone Africa, CLEAR has set out to strengthen monitoring, evaluation, performance management, and evaluation use at the country level.
While much of CLEAR’s work is face-to-face, a great many organizations have made training material available on the web. One can now piece together free resources online—webinars, documents, videos, correspondence, and even one-on-one meetings with experts—that can result in highly contextualized learning. This is what many of the African evaluators I have met are telling me they are doing.
The US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand appear to be leading exporters of evaluation content to Africa. Claremont Graduate University, Western Michigan University, the American Evaluation Association, the Canadian Government, and BetterEvaluation are some of the better-known sources.
What’s next? Perhaps consolidators who organize online and in-person content into high-quality curricula that are convenient, coherent, and comprehensive.
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Although the supply of evaluators may be limited in many parts of Africa, the demand for evaluation continues to increase. The history of evaluation in the US, Canada, and Europe suggests that demand grows when evaluation is required as a condition of funding or by law. From what I have seen, it appears that history is repeating itself in Africa. In large part this is due to the tremendous influence that funders from outside of Africa have.
An important exception is South Africa, where there government and evaluators work cooperatively to produce and use evaluations. I hope to learn more about this in the days to come.