**4 min read**
“We won’t get back to normal because normal was the problem.” - Graffiti in Santiago, Chile
It is great to see evaluators leaping into action with advice on how to adjust practice to cope with the impact of the coronavirus. This could be a transformative moment also for evaluation. As deftly stated by IEG’s Joss Vaessen and Estelle Raimondo, “Evaluators should not be tone-deaf and rely on well-oiled institutional mechanisms that regulate the production of evaluations to preserve ‘business as usual’”.
The coming months and years will be more uncertain, volatile and turbulent. This is not a health crisis. It is a series of intertwined health, social, (in some countries) political, and especially financial and economic shocks that is very likely to lead to a global depression possibly worse than 1929. The preferred immediate remedy of printing trillions of dollars and issuing long-term bonds will not sustain; governments will try to claw back losses from already-suffering citizens. Societies will be under strain as poverty extends its grip on economically rich and poor countries. Tensions between people and between nations are set to increase. Many leaders around the world are weak and, together with the manipulations of media monopolies, will be tempted to launch self-centred efforts aimed at causing havoc and conflict as old powers wane and new ones become more assertive about their place in the sun.
All systems within which evaluators work will be under pressure, and we will need to be very sensitive to stresses that result in new patterns of institutional and societal behaviour. But the new situations will also bring new opportunities where evaluation can support the healing of societies and ecosystems, and help sustain a good balance between the interests of nature, humanity, and the social-ecological ecosystems on which we all depend.
A useful list of resources with advice from evaluation specialists for the time of the coronavirus can be found on this blog of Tom Archibald, "free-range evaluation" (a really good name for a blog, btw).
I used for the summary below the insights provided by Michael Quinn Patton, Rockefeller Foundation (i.a. by Michael Bamberger), World Bank IEG, UNDP IEO, and comments from webinars held by the UNEG, OECD Evalnet and Blue Marble Evaluation.
I made my own additions in blue, including the three categories which are my personal priorities and on which I will focus in upcoming posts.
Please click on the image to view the larger version.
I found the advice provided by Michael Quinn Patton particularly thoughtful as it focuses to a more detailed extent on the implications for different dimensions of evaluation in the period after COVID-19: Emphases such as the importance of thinking and working both systemically and systematically. Engaging with complexity and practicing interconnections. Connecting the local to the global in terms of patterns and actions – promoting for example understanding of the links between health and climate. Working for global, longer term sustainability transformation. Recognising that the South and North are intertwined but that societies are very different. Making the case for evaluation’s value. Being informed knowledge workers and evaluation scientists. Using what the virus is doing now to strengthen evaluation thinking capacities.
We need to think more deeply about how we should position evaluation as practice at a critical time like this. It is invisible amidst the slew of verbal and written reports and papers discussing ‘evidence’ and analyses of what is taking place. This displays the dire need for us to connect better with research, and to move our practice with a sense of urgency beyond "projects" and "programmes" to (global) "systems".
I close with two of Michael's most pertinent quotes:
“Make evaluation all the more useful and real-time data essential so that the evaluation value proposition reframes evaluation as an essential activity, not as a mundane bureaucratic or luxurious function when times are good. Define, conceptualise, articulate and demonstrate the essential utility of evaluation. Lay the groundwork now.”
“Balancing long-term threats with urgent demands for short-term, crisis-generated interventions demands in-depth transformative evaluation thinking. Evaluators need to be prepared to contribute to finding and following pathways and trajectories toward transformations for a more sustainable future. Keep learning. Support each other. Commitment to evidence-based decision-making, evaluative thinking and using evaluation to make a better world. That’s our niche.
Zenda Ofir is an independent South African evaluator at present based near Geneva. She works primarily in Africa and Asia, and advises organisations around the world. She is a former AfrEA President, IOCE and IDEAS Vice-President, AEA Board member, Honorary Professor at Stellenbosch University, Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow, and at present Interim Council Chair of the new International Evaluation Academy.