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It’s an emotional subject

2013 March 27

In advance of next month’s Conference on the Politics of Evidence, viagra recent weeks have found me speaking at meetings in Abuja, cure Geneva and Oxford.  Meeting participants were country programme staff, M&E specialists and head office programme/policy people in international NGOs and United Nations agencies.   What was the mood?

First of all relief among many participants to be in a collective space where it’s OK to talk about how they feel about what is happening to them – and to find that others were experiencing similar emotions of frustration of the impact of the results and evidence agenda on their jobs.  ‘All I do now is write reports’ said one. ‘I make up numbers’, said another, bitterly.  There is anger at the absurdity of ‘targetitis’ and the proliferation of tools and protocols.  People mentioned being forced to develop Theories of Change that ignored the ‘politics of how’ and the sheer stupidity of a large global programme that has 300 indicators for measuring change.  The long-standing anxiety was aired about how alternative pathways of change are ignored by the logical framework single linear cause-effect proposition.

There is despair that mandatory approaches to design, monitoring and reporting are ‘ignoring the knowledge of those you are working with and for. ’  One evaluation specialist spoke of how his organisation is being obliged to do ‘objective’ evaluations, excluding interviews with a programme’s diversity of stakeholders because these are seen as biased points of view.   Evaluations are increasingly ignoring ‘context and power relations, said another.

Participants – particularly those working at the country programme level – lamented how the results and evidence agenda was replacing collaboration with hierarchy because of upward reporting requirements. There is sorrow that relationships are being undermined and that the slow work of social change is being replaced by the delivery of superficial ‘results’ that can be reported to the donor as a quick ‘win but that does not have any lasting effects.

Several people spoke about the underlying differences of how development is understood and the need to capture the difference development agencies make in supporting long term changes in power relations.  Links were made between the results and evidence agenda with the prevalence of market discourses and neo-liberal approaches to development.

On the other hand, some people were pleased that M&E is no longer the Cinderella of the development industry. Let’s be honest. Evaluations were often either poor quality or non-existent, reporting was often shoddy and there was a lot of mess and muddle. The results and evidence agenda can provide a real opportunity to examine critically what and how we are doing and offers organisations greater chances than before of becoming genuine learning organisations.

I guess the issue is whether and how we learn to ride the tiger. Or do we have to change the nature of the beast?

4 Responses
  1. richard holloway permalink
    March 27, 2013

    The bitterness that comes through from the folks you talked to is palpable. hearing that you cannot do evaluations tghrough interviews because they might be biased is just astonishing.

    On a slightly lighter note, i have just come back from Indonesia where i was asked by USAID to do a two year programmatic evaluation of a project to increase representation in parliament, and was encouraged to interview widely, and to think prosepctively of what could be done in the future – rather different from the situationsyou report.

    Richard holloway

    • Rosalind Eyben permalink
      March 27, 2013

      Thanks Richard. Yes, good to hear of a positive story! I wonder whether donors are more flexible and sensible as direct commissioners of evaluations? Are UN agencies and INGOs dependent on such donors imposing exaggerated requirements in response to to what they perceive as donor demands and to make sure that their donors are happy with them?

  2. March 27, 2013

    Thank you Rosalind this is wonderful!

    What empty intelligence is at work, when all of my clients, colleagues and collaborators reflect the same feelings that you record here?

    At CDRA in South Africa we are in the early stages of a programme that attempts to mitigate some of the stupidity you mention, while maximising the potential that is opened by our living in the M&E Era.

    Hopefully by next year we will have some news on alternatives to report (assuming there will be a next year for the BPF :)

    Your stuff remains a complete inspiration. Wishing you a fabulous BPF gathering.

  3. Maiwada Zubairu permalink
    March 27, 2013

    Speaking of Tiger- Let me narrate an opt often told story of different animals in a Tiger’s Den. The intention of the story is to illustrate how M&E professionals behave. The story goes like this:

    A Fox, a Dog and other animals were called often to evaluate the Tiger’s Den that has not been cleaned for months. Other animals praised the Den despite the fact that it stinks. The Fox was cunning enough to say he had a cold – so could not smell anything. The Dog – being what it is and with high sense of smell – told it like it was – the Den stinks very badly indeed!!

    So as M&E we have choices to behave like The Fox, or the Dog or other animals.


    By the way this story is being retold as reportedly told by the one former of Evaluation Director at World Bank – I believe

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