A plea for more unconventional, more localised evaluations

This post shares my experience with a hybrid evaluation in a team of peers, and plea for more unorthodox cooperation in evaluations.

Last year I carried out an evaluation as part of a team of three researchers – two from the country of the project to be evaluated (in Asia), plus me working online from Germany. All of us were quite senior professionals, but only I had proven evaluation expertise. So, we agreed that the colleagues in the project country would be responsible for data collection, analysis, and report writing. My role was to take the lead in designing the evaluation, to provide quality assurance, and to edit the evaluation report so that it would comply with donor needs.

It was my first time not to be the lead evaluator in an international team. We worked together as peers, and that worked very well. Together, we developed an evaluation matrix with all the questions, fields of observation and data sources, as well as guiding questions for data collection. We stayed in touch online during the data collection phase, had a couple of online workshops to extract findings, and wrote the report together. Nothing special, it would seem, but it is still rare – at least in the context of German development and humanitarian cooperation – to find evaluations where the “international” consultant is not automatically the team leader.

My colleagues worked within their own country, in their own languages, knowing very well how to ask their questions, how to interpret the answers, and how to read between the lines. There was no risk the “international” team member would ask locally inappropriate questions or miss or misinterpret important data. My colleagues did not need to read up on their national political, economic, and social situation to understand the project context. They drew on decades of experience in the sector the project was about, in the very country where the project was implemented. They were social researchers, not trained evaluators, and that was fine.

The idea of “localising” evaluation in development and humanitarian cooperation has been around for a while – as illustrated, for instance, by the fact that the German Institute for Development Evaluation [link] is about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its training programme for evaluators in Germany’s partner countries. Let’s have more locally led evaluations! In teams mixing locals and foreigners, let’s find an arrangement that ensures all can fully contribute their skills and knowledge. The international and/or the trained evaluator does not necessarily have to be the team leader. And the old formula “local research assistants, foreign researchers” does not make sense anymore (if it ever did).

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