The German evaluation society DeGEval has published a discussion paper (in German) that provides guidance for remote evaluation. It is based on experienced evaluators‘ lessons from more than a year of remote evaluation.
The term „remote evaluation“ refers to an evaluation that is carried out by a person/team based outside of the country/region/place where the project to be evaluated has taken place. Due to travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations – especially those active in international cooperation – have commissioned remote or semi-remote/ hybrid evaluations. In most of the examples known to me, the team leader or sole evaluator has been working from Europe, conducting interviews, surveys and workshops online and by telephone, with people all over the world. I have carried out a bunch of remote and hybrid evaluations, too, assessing multicountry initiatives in global policy advocacy and local economic empowerment, country programmes of international development players, and regional learning initiatives. It has been an enlightening experience. I can fully subscribe to the conclusion the DeGEval paper reaches: European evaluators don’t need to travel that much.
The working paper balances the challenges of remote evaluation – you don’t get to meet people in person, you don’t visit the places where the project has happened… – against an impressive array of advantages. For example, a remote approach allows you to spread primary data collection over a longer stretch of time, because the evaluators do not need to squeeze all interviews into their two-week field trip. The money you save on travel-related costs can go into enlarging the data collection team. For instance, a colleague has recruited research assistants to carry out phone interviews. That has proven an excellent means to reach many more people, in many more places, than the number of persons the average evaluator can interview during a field trip.
The best thing about the paper is its conclusion. German readers, go to page 35 of the paper and read the last sentence! It encourages those who commission evaluations to carefully examine whether „international evaluators“ really have to travel. In many cases, evaluations can be carried out locally, supporting local consulting firms and research institutions. Where it is considered important to have someone from abroad on the team, a hybrid model may still be a good – and environmentally sound – solution. As much as I enjoy interacting with people in other countries and places: Often, we can make better use of our resources if we skip international travel.