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 era – not 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.
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.