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Reflections on day one: politics of evidence

2013 April 23

Day One of the Big Push Forward’s Conference on the Politics of Evidence reflected, viagra sale I suppose, stuff much of what might have been expected from it. There was a great deal of pushing back and forth about ideas and philosophies, rx rich discussions, a soupcon of frustration, some positivity and a lot of interest in taking some of the ideas into the second day to talk about strategies.

Since a blog cannot hope to convey the discussion, I’ll restrain myself to some threads which I felt stood out:

  • Measurement processes, tools, artefacts, can all be positive or negative: it’s not about the artefact – although discourses can grow around them, and some discourses can push in one direction or another – but about the interpretation of the artefact. It’s about the detail of their implementation, and the people and the relationships involved in bringing them in and communicating them.
  • Agency, tai-chi and ju-jitsu: people reflecting on their own positions are not just automatons within a relentless machine. There is agency, and there are possibilities to shape the directions of organisations and the way organisations – or the people they work within – understand the world through measurement and evaluation processes. It’s just that sometimes a little tai-chi – or possibly ju-jitsu – is needed to turn people around.
  • Disjunctures in scale: that some of the measurement techniques, when used to evaluate interventions and to convince at the level of general policies, do not necessarily work at the level of individual projects. RCTs, for example, are purpose designed for scale-up, but that may not be the case for many of the project evaluations at a local scale.
  • Ownership: fundamentally, one of the biggest concerns articulated was about ownership of the evaluations, and who are they for. It’s about programme staff whose projects become strangers to them, or those we are seeking to support who felt themselves robbed of voice in the face of evaluations, experimental design, and the power of evidence.
  • There is no Big Bad Wolf proposing mindless tools to do people down: there are repeated, deep, systemic issues in play, coming from a fragmented and highly political environment, dealing with difficult problems. Everyone in the room had their own philosophies and their own ways of pursuing development aims within that system.

These are of course just some personal reflections and take-aways. Tomorrow, the sessions are focusing on whether we can come up with strategies for opening the space for fair assessments for development in this complex system.

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