Evaluation teams, too…

…play a part in good evaluation. Of course! A friend challenged me on my last-but-one post (Evaluation – a waste of money?), saying that better evaluation terms of reference (TOR) don‘t necessarily make better evaluations. The friend is right. Sometimes evaluators do a poor job just because they don’t know how to do better, or because feel they don‘t need to meet the highest attainable standard. How can those who commission evaluations prevent that kind of situation?

The recruitment process is an important step. Take time for it, develop sober but clear TOR (again!), ask for references… That‘ll help you find a team that is able to do a good job. But it is just as important for evaluation commissioners to show that they care, by accompanying the evaluation team throughout the evaluation. They don‘t need to physically be there, but a weekly or biweekly call can make a bit difference – just asking what the team is working on, and what challenges they are facing and how they deal with (and document) them. Before evaluation teams start writing their report, some discussion on findings and conclusions with the commissioner and other stakeholders is essential. It also makes sense to discuss a tentative outline of the evaluation report before the full report is written. There are many ways of staying involved without breathing down the evaluation team’s necks. As an evaluator, I have always appreciated clients who showed supportive interest in the evaluation process.

In some types of evaluations, continuous exchange with the evaluation team is built in – think internal evaluation, developmental evaluation, participatory evaluation… But in classical one-off external evaluations, there tends to be too little communication of that kind between the inception report and the draft evaluation report. If the evaluation manager doesn’t have the capacity (time, skills) to stay in close communication with the evaluation team, put together a panel that is committed to accompany the team in a supportive manner, as critical friends. Or hire an evaluation facilitator!