**6 min read**
Candice is a livewire at CLEAR-AA in Johannesburg. Together with another livewire colleague, Mokgophana Ramasobana, she is responsible for, among others, the Development Evaluation Training Programme in Africa (DETPA, also known as the CLEAR-AA Winter School). Candice is therefore one of those at the forefront of promoting an African approach to evaluation where context, culture, history and beliefs are acknowledged as needing to shape evaluation in response to the diversity and complexity of development in Africa. I thoroughly enjoyed the three days I spent facilitating DETPA’s ‘Made in Africa Evaluation’ module in 2017 with Candice and many evaluation friends from all over Africa. Here are her six top tips from the tip of Africa.
My top tips are a bit different from those you have been reading about lately in this series. They’re less about the intellectual process of becoming a great evaluator, and more about the things that facilitate (or detract from) the journey. I absolutely loved reading all of the posts in this series thus far. In fact, I would say that those are not only for YEEs, as I found them incredibly enlightening myself, and could apply a great many to my own practice. So here are a few (different) lessons I learned early on in my career – they may not apply to everyone, but I hope they will find resonance with someone battling these issues out there!
Top Tip 1. The bombshell: not everyone involved in monitoring and evaluation is – or should be - an evaluator. I personally do not self-identify as an evaluator, although I have been in the sector for close to fifteen years. (I mostly define myself as a public policy/development/M&E specialist, but depending whom I’m talking to, I can get very inventive in describing what I do….especially at family gatherings….but that’s a blog for another day!).
I feel that it is necessary to give permission to people to decide what role in the (very fluid) continuum of M&E practice suits them best. I often facilitate or teach courses in M&E, and I almost hear a collective sigh of relief whenever I raise this point. You may be a not-so-young and not-so-emerging professional, but have suddenly been jettisoned into a new M&E role, and you now have to figure out what this is all about. You may, however, have similar needs to YEEs – access to information, networks, acquiring new knowledge and a new skills set.
Not being an evaluator does not, however, absolve you of the need to learn about evaluation.
The tips highlighted by Zenda, Michael Q Patton, Benita Williams and Juha Uitto (and undoubtedly others in this series) apply to commissioners of evaluation, users of evaluation evidence and others in the field as much as they do to evaluators. However, if you are a young or not-so-young policy, research or public health (etc.) specialist you are just as welcome into the fold. Identify which part of the M&E family you wish to contribute to, and build capacity in that area. It may not be as an evaluator, and that’s ok!
Top Tip 2. Don’t let intimidation and self-doubt stop you - or stated differently, don’t allow your own self-consciousness and insecurities limit your involvement and contribution to the sector. In the early days, I believed that I needed to attain certain (self-imposed) milestones before I could make a contribution or speak up. Thanks to many mentors in the sector who believed that even YEEs have value and a voice, I was encouraged to get involved in, for example, the work of the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association, SAMEA (the South African Voluntary Organisation for Professional Evaluation – VOPE), green shoots and all. It takes courage and you have to risk being challenged, but it is the best way to grow. Being challenged in your beliefs, knowledge, paradigms, motives and actions is part of growing intellectually and professionally, and can offer very useful opportunities for self-reflection and personal development.
As a side-note: evaluation is political, and gatekeeping is part of the game. There is a shadow-side to the sector (in fact in the development sector on the whole), where some semblance of in-group/out-group behaviour may leave you feeling excluded. This does not happen everywhere, but if this has left you uninspired and stopped you in your tracks, see tip no. 3 below!
Top Tip 3. Find a mentor (better yet, a number of them) and surround yourself with those who will support you. Make the call, send the email, set up the appointment. Get critical feedback, reflect on it, be serious and do the work that is required to make progress.
Top Tip 4. Get involved in your local/national VOPE. It is not enough to register as a member or lurk in the shadows of the list-serv. The adage “out of sight, out of mind” applies perfectly here. The best way to show up is to get involved in your local VOPE. Once again, don’t allow self-consciousness to stop you – don’t be afraid. What often sets rising stars apart is their willingness to serve, to do more than what is asked, and to jump in headlong into the activities of their local VOPEs, without having to be micro-managed. The most valuable VOPE member is an active and reliable one, and soon those individuals are noticed and given more opportunities in the sector!
Top Tip 5. Learn even from the “bad” experiences – the internship that didn’t work out (you were left making photocopies and tea rather than designing Theories of Change) are all valuable parts of the journey of professional growth. Don’t despise or regret these, but try to use them to identify what you would have done differently if you were in charge, or how you would act differently if next faced with a similar situation. What you learn from this experience could in fact become a very valuable tip for the next YEE!
Top Tip 6. Lastly: be humble, be inclusive, and pay-it-forward. At a certain point in your journey you may feel that you have “arrived” (a falsehood, as learning is never-ending) or have attained “in-group status” (an unfortunate self-deception that should never occur). The professional networks and friendships that are formed in evaluation are a natural part of being in the sector, where the networks are relatively close-knit and amongst whom there is a fair degree of overlap. When this happens, remember what it felt like to be new, and how much you needed the support and mentorship of others. Be that beacon of light for someone new on the “outskirts” looking in.
Candice is a policy and M&E specialist with over 20 years’ experience in the academic, public and non-profit sectors in South Africa, Ghana and Zambia. She served as Chair of SAMEA and is currently on the Board of AfrEA. She has a Masters in Conflict Management (cum laude) from NMU (South Africa) and is currently completing her PhD in Public Administration. She currently specialises in evaluation capacity building at CLEAR-AA.