Rob van den Berg’s Top Tips for YEEs

**7 min read**

I have considered Rob for years as one of the most insightful and experienced evaluators in the global evaluation community. The work of the Global Evaluation Facility (GEF), where he was Director of Evaluation for many years, has been at the forefront of complex systems-informed evaluation, and he continues to work in this area in several influential capacities. His impressive expertise has been reflected in articles and books such as the recently published Evaluating Climate Change for Sustainable Development and Evaluation for the 2030 Agenda, where he has several very significant contributions. More recently I have seen first-hand his commitment and boundless energy as IDEAS President. It is great to see this vast experience translated into these five very practical and heartfelt tips for young evaluators.  As Professor at King’s College London on evaluation of sustainable development I encounter many students who hesitate or ponder whether to become a “young and emerging evaluator”. Their thirst for knowledge is great and I will certainly recommend them to read the blogs on top tips for young and emerging evaluators, many of which focus on what kind of professional they should grow into. What I will focus on is how you as young and/or emerging evaluator should navigate the muddy waters of the professional evaluation community.

Top Tip 1. Use your time in university, especially at post graduate level, to orient yourself on jobs in the evaluation world.

There is no easy way to become an evaluation professional. The first steps are often the most difficult. Job offers are few and far between and tend to focus on highly qualified and experienced evaluators. Evaluators are rarely hired in regular jobs directly from university. There are several ways to get into evaluation.

A first possibility is through internships. Not many evaluation units offer these and when they do, there may be huge competition and whether or not you get the internship depends not only on your CV but also on luck: being the right person offering yourself at the right moment in time.

A second possibility is as evaluation or research analyst, often hired for supporting a specific evaluation. While this offers a glimpse of real evaluation work, it tends to be work that will not allow you to display the full understanding, creativity and knowledge you have acquired in your study. Furthermore, there is a danger that once an evaluation analyst, you will remain an analyst for the rest of your career as in some organisations (most notably the World Bank) a kind of glass ceiling exists for analysts to break through to the higher rank of evaluation officer.

A third possibility is to just continue on studying and go for a Ph.D. in evaluation! This is by no means easy to arrange for, of course. You will need to find a university, supervisors and funding. If you manage to conclude this successfully, your career possibilities in evaluation and in academia are good if not excellent, as there is a constant demand for new knowledge and insights in the evaluation community.

Top Tip 2. Focus on the kind of evaluation work that is of interest to you.

While it is difficult to find a starting point in an evaluation career, a second important perspective is to consider what kind of evaluation work would be most interesting to you.

If you are interested in what local communities do to ensure their survival in their confrontations with climate change, land grabbing, standards for agricultural products that are difficult to meet, redirection of water resources for industrial use and so on, do not accept a job offer in a unit that evaluates concessional lending to the private sector through guarantee funds. It may be too far removed from what you would want to evaluate, and it may be difficult to move over into local community work if you have worked for years with big industry or the financial sector. If public policy has your full attention and you would like to evaluate public policies, go for institutions or evaluation consultancies that aim for policy evaluation.

Top Tip 3. Connect to evaluators working in your area of interest.

Networking is often crucial to becoming involved. There are many opportunities to link to evaluation professionals. For example, if you are interested in evaluation of climate change in relation to development, visit the community of practice “Earth-Eval”, to be found at www.climate-eval.org. You can learn about the issues, see new insights and developments, find job opportunities and initiatives to which you could contribute.

LinkedIn also has many discussion platforms on specific evaluation issues. And you can become a member of a professional association. There are national, regional and even a global association! Have a look at www.ideas-global.org or visit the websites of other associations. They often have special rates for young evaluators and it could be worthwhile to become a member. For example, IDEAS publishes a monthly newsletter for its members with job opportunities, recent literature, news from thematic groups, and so on. Both communities of practice and associations are also active on twitter: follow what is new or current in the evaluation community through following several of these, for example @BetterEval.

Top Tip 4. Consider the ethics of the profession and how you would like to contribute.

We all like to contribute to a better world and, if possible, earn a good salary while doing so. This inevitably involves compromises and trade-offs.

Some of us are interested in performing our work as best as we can, while considering that institutional settings ensure that this work is done for the best of all, or alternatively for the “clients”. Others want to contribute directly to a better world and will go for work that is infused with ethical perspectives, like developmental, democratic, human rights, gender and participatory evaluation approaches.

Some of us are mesmerised by what can be gleaned from mathematical and statistical (big) data and will want to focus on the technicalities of how to derive credible and valid evaluative findings. Others will want to ensure that findings are relevant to the public, or the government, or institutions.

Some will want evaluation to be independent, so that it provides a countervailing voice against big government overreach or private sector manipulation of information. Others will want to see evaluation to be involved and immersed into local or national issues, ensuring evidence will be brought to light where needed.

All these ethical choices will translate into what kind of evaluation outfit, unit, consultancy you would want to go for and where you could make a contribution.

Top Tip 5. Explore, discover and evaluate.

The greatest difficulty in your early career will be that often your voice will not yet be heard. You are asked and tasked to perform relatively non-inspiring work, such as performing basic analysis on data or putting survey material in a spreadsheet, and your opinion does not yet count for much amongst colleagues. This is your time to evaluate the profession! Observe what happens, form yourself an opinion and see whether at the right moment in time there would be an opportunity to offer a suggestion, to contribute to thinking about how evaluation practice can be improved. See whether you like what is happening or whether it is contrary to what you hoped for. Change course if necessary and do not hesitate to shift to another line of work if evaluation does not turn out to be the right choice for you.

Paradoxically, if you can evaluate what you do, what the profession does and what contribution the job you have makes, you are on your way to become a great evaluation professional!

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Rob van den Berg

Rob D. van den Berg is President of the International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS), Visiting Professor at King’s College, London and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Development Impact at the Institute of Development Studies. He serves as Chair of the Advisory Group on Evaluation and Learning at the Climate Investment Funds at the World Bank, and is a member of the Advisory Council of Wilton Park in the UK.

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