Snippet: Evaluators in Davos – and DED

There are no evaluators this week in Davos. We are clearly not among the most powerful in the world. Yet I have always hoped that the very nature of our practice would enable us to contribute significantly and visibly to solving our day to day development challenges, as well as some of the world’s most urgent and intractable problems.

We need to consider what are the core strengths, responsibilities, boundaries and limitations of our practice within the current eranot in the 20th century when evaluation was conceptualised as metadiscipline, practice, profession (whatever we choose to call it).

We often lament the limitations inherent in our practice. Visionary evaluators such as Bob Picciotto also highlighted the urgent need to engage in new ways with issues that matter in a new context at this time.

It is time for us to start thinking quite fundamentally about how to Conceptualize and Do Evaluation Differently (DED).

This should complement Doing Development Differently. New thinking and testing of new ideas have made progress in terms of DDD interesting, even exciting at times, yet limited by problems of uptake and scaling. This is in large part the result of the inertia and conventional models of working inherent in, and propagated by the aid system as well as powerful linear-thinking disciplines that continue to drive many development initiatives.

Reform of any system takes time if not driven by powerful shocks or relatively fast-moving disruptions.

Useful things to think about in the meantime

First, I personally believe that evaluation can be better conceptualised, done and ‘marketed’ as a fundamental part of risk management for organisations, companies, governments and global regimes. This is more powerful than its widely perceived “policing” or “politicking” image.

Second, private sector efforts are showing us simpler yet still useful ways of integrating evaluation – and evaluation ‘language’ – into private sector activities in ways that can do good.

Third, we have to think anew about evaluands and what they might mean for practice, as best demonstrated by Michael Quinn Patton’s recent work on Principles-Focused Evaluation and Blue Marble Evaluation.

Fourth, Japan, China, Rwanda and others are showing us monitoring and evaluation practice from new angles. Much can be learned – and much that we think is new in our practice is in fact not so.

More about these developments in later posts.

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Zenda Ofir

Zenda Ofir is an independent South African evaluator. Based near Geneva, she works across Africa and Asia. A former AfrEA President, IOCE Vice-President and AEA Board member, she is at present IDEAS Vice-President, Lead Steward of the SDG Transformations Forum A&E Working Group and Honorary Professor at Stellenbosch University.

2 Comments

  1. The whole evaluation community accross the globe must afford to promote a culture of evaluation. Promoting evaluation in an angle of development instead of as a tool of judgement, as it is commonly shared, will enable policy makers, private sector, civil society… to understand the importance of evaluation.
    We are on the way, just keep on going Professor!

    • Roger
      I agree, and more than that, I would argue that in the Global South in particular we should also focus on exactly what an evaluation culture, and embedding evaluation in the notion of “development” means in our very specific contexts. Much of what is written about evaluation and an evaluative culture in society and in organisations comes from the North – not always applicable in our countries and cultures. We need to understand very well what should be tailored or nuanced for our contexts.

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