I have come to known Fabiola through our serving on the steering committee of the South to South Evaluation (S2SE) initiative, an effort to promote and advance evaluation based on perspectives and experiences in the Global South. She is the embodiment of an inspirational leader in evaluation in her Latin American region, with passion for, and commitment to the issues she writes about here. Her experience shines through in her focus on attitudes and ways of thinking in shaping our evaluation practice.
Zenda’s invitation to contribute to her blog with some tips "from the Global South" for Young and Emerging Evaluators has made me reflect on how to help newcomers to the evaluation field avoid common mistakes and break paradigms in this era where transformations are required so nations are developed with a sense of equity and social justice.
I believe that, more than technical advice and innovative methodologies, it is our attitude and way of thinking that shape our professional work. We learn techniques in classrooms and books, while our behaviours are built on patterns of integrity, honest work, fair treatment and ethical attitudes - that is, the strengthening of competencies that concern the human being, and that are generally learned in the early stages of life.
My advice is therefore directed at the attitudes and principles that we as evaluators must cultivate and practice when we work for sustainable development. It is about reinforcing those features of our personality and our character that, together with training on principle-focused leadership, can be put in the service of our profession. Applying the ideas of Robert Greenleaf in Servant Leadership, it is finding the strength of character necessary to realise our destiny, to discover the wisdom and power to put our profession at the service of those less privileged in our society. Ultimately, it is to ensure that our knowledge does not remain only as learned concepts, but that we are able to influence those in our environment to contribute to social change.
My experience with gender transformative evaluation informed my tips, but I hope that those who read them will adapt them to other areas of evaluation.
Top Tip 1. Review your own perceptions about ‘ethics’ and ‘responsibility’ when making evaluative judgments.
This refers not only to following the standards and ethical principles that govern the evaluation process, but also to respect the human rights of the communities participating in the evaluation, their dignity and the cultural context that govern their behaviour. It means reflecting critically on the factors that inhibit or facilitate the transformations needed within a framework of empathy and co-responsibility.
Top Tip 2. Break paradigms; overcome resistance.
A transformative evaluation approach requires new visions and new uses of knowledge that sometimes mean ruptures with hegemonic perspectives of evaluation theory, as well as behavioral changes. Those who venture into the evaluation profession must have an assertive attitude to transmit findings and promote change convincingly and with lateral thinking. Present the results of the evaluation with robust arguments based on personal knowledge, with a critical and meticulous analysis of the evidence and findings to facilitate, jointly with the communities participating in the evaluation, the identification of ‘points of entry’ towards the needed changes.
Top Tip 3. Use triangulation as a means to reflect and discuss.
Evaluating with a transformative perspective means taking it out of the technical space; refining our interpretation of the different views on the same subject; challenging participants; and having them reflect critically on the results of the evaluation. This is especially important in situations of exclusion where it is necessary to identify the hidden sources of unequal power. The skills of negotiation and intercultural relations play an important role in this type of facilitation as part of evaluative work.
Top Tip 4. Remove myths about the ‘punishing’ evaluation.
A fresh look at the evaluations in their transforming role should reinforce the concept that evaluative judgments and evidence are tools for improvement that should never generate fears or defensive positions. Friendly, respectful and collaborative attitudes, as well as the use of tools and methods that highlight with analytical rigor what is working well (for example, using Appreciative Inquiry), will help to socialise the evaluation results and enhance their use with greater effectiveness.
It is also useful to highlight the connection between the results obtained and their contribution to higher objectives of equality and social justice. Furthermore, as some current trends show (see AEA365: Should we be having fun with evaluation?), after having a common understanding of what evaluation is, we can have fun with it while still adhering to quality standards.
Top Tip 5. Overcome new colonialisms in evaluation.
The transformative evaluator positions her/himself in a place of influence to challenge traditional power dynamics and colonial attitudes, seeking local solutions to the observed problems. Cultural competence becomes a key skill to achieve this goal. In addition, in order to create non-paternalistic associations with communities of diverse origins, the transformative evaluator can benefit from “cultural humility” that adds a political dimension to addressing power imbalances among traditionally excluded groups.
Fabiola Amariles is a Colombian economist, educator and independent evaluator with more than 25 years’ experience in international development. As founder and CEO of Learning for Impact with offices in Weston, FL, USA and Cali, Colombia, she specialises in gender equality and women’s empowerment in developing countries. She is a member of the EvalGender+ Management Group and former Board member of REDWIM, the LAC Network of Women in Management.