Friday, October 05, 2012

Two sides of the Evaluation Coin

Evaluating projects is probably the most demanding of development roles. Good Development depends on learning, on knowledge sharing and on adapting projects to emerging issues and changes in the external environment. It sounds so easy put like that, but changing direction - especially if it involves reducing or closing down activities - is difficult and fraught. Evaluators walk into a minefield of expectations, anxieties, conflicting interests and plain old financial pressures when they take on the task of reviewing progress within a project and reporting back to all those who are involved - the people in whose name the project is being run, the project staff, the managers and the donors.

As we reported back in December 2010, together with CommsConsult and John Rowley, we carried out an evaluation of the AfricaAdapt project for the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). The evaluation, as many do, took up far more time than we had estimated - and budgeted - and was a difficult exercise involving a lot of negotiation, both with the client and the project staff. However, we learnt a lot in the process and the engagement with our colleagues was intense and, generally, enjoyable.

Determined to walk our talk we signed up for the  virtual writeshop process led by Irene Gujit for the Better Evaluation project. The aim was to work with the contractor - Penelope Beynon, then of IDS - to write a joint account of the project, exploring what worked and what didn't work, and suggest recommendations so others could possibly avoid the problems we faced.

Looking at the Better Evaluation new website, full of fascinating and insightful resources, including the report we developed on the evaluation - Two sides of the Evaluation Coin. It's quite possibly unique amongst the resources in being written by both the contractor and the consultants, and where we couldn't agree on a joint account, we spelt out our differences.