Given my background as a former “conflict sensitivity programs coordinator” in eastern DRC for Search for Common Ground, I was immediately attracted to the “Aid in Conflict” session listed on the so-very-busy conference Afrea agenda.
The presenters were not able to make it to the conference and therefore, what was supposed to be a strand turned into a round table, with me taking a much larger-than-expected role of presenting SFCG’s experience of data collection and evaluation in conflict areas.
While the majority of the assistance had close to zero experience in conflict settings - “getting my daughter to clean her bedroom is the most conflict-prone moment I’ve faced over the last few years” said laughing my right-hand neighbor! – two other persons a great deal of interesting experience to share: Oluwatosin Akomolafe from SPARC Nigeria and Mahame Rage from the brand new Somali M&E Association SOMEA. The three of us spent 90 minutes answering the participants’ numerous questions: How do you access data in conflict zones? What special care should one take when designing your data collection tool and methodology? How can we monitor data as volatile as “conflict” or “social cohesion” when the context is constantly evolving? While detailed notes of this session should be available shortly on the Better evaluation website, here are a couple of hints shared during the roundtable:
How do you access data in conflict zones? (a) Use your local implementation partners and train them to do some basic data collection for you; (b) set up a network of phone informants whom to call on a regular basis; (c) form mixed data collection teams made up of people from both sides of a division line, be it a religious, ethnic or gender line that is at the core of conflict
What special care should one take when designing data collection tools and methodology? (a) consider asking proxy questions rather than straight questions that will make your informant uncomfortable; (b) pay a special attention to who introduces you locally, and make sure that you use multiple entry points in the local community to avoid selection bias; (c) ensure you take into consideration the latest available data on local conflict trends – i.e. by reading the latest reports, interviewing a couple of freshly-returned-from-the-field person. Read more on conflict sensitivity and do-no-harm here.
How can we monitor data as volatile as “conflict” or “social cohesion” when the context is constantly evolving? (a) upgrade your usual monitoring tools by adding just a couple of basic questions on the context of conflict (i.e.: add the following question to your employee’s monthly field report: “did any major conflict affect the implementation our activities over the last month?”); (b) add “review of the conflict context” to the agenda of your quarterly program reviews, and make sure to take notes of the key decisions; (c) when evaluating your programs, ask beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries if your project had any impact on the conflict and vice-versa. During another Afrea session I had the chance to present SFCG’s experience and lessons learned in monitoring conflict and how we’ve used conflict assessment as a tool to monitor our peacebuilding programs. You may download the presentation slides.
In addition to the "Aid in Conflict” Session, I also really enjoyed the learning sessions “Getting started with mobile technology” that was presented by PACT in Uganda’s Daisy Kisyombe. I was particularly happy to receive a copy of PACT’s freshly released Mobile Technology Handbook which features among other a very useful table comparing the pros and cons of some of the most common platforms available on the market for mobile data collection.
The Technology and Evaluation strand was another great opportunity to hear about other evaluator’s experience with mobile technology. As you will read more on Linda Raftree - the strand’s chair ’s blog, I learned that using phone interviews may sometimes lead to more honest responses from you informants. I must admit that before participating to this strand, I had only though about the logistical advantages of using mobile device for data collection – i.e. saving time, saving money . While I still learned about those advantages, my understanding of the use of ICT in evaluation is now both deeper and broader.
I’m back in Abidjan now with a long to-read list, but also with lots of business cards from so many of my peers. Because I find it is so important that monitoring and evaluation specialists who are based in the Africa region share their experience in overcoming local challenges and seizing the “made-in-Africa” opportunities, I definitely recommend that they attend further similar African-based evaluation events.
Charline Burton is SFCG’s DME Specialist in West and Central Africa. Previously, she has been managing conflict sensitivity programs since 2011 for SFCG in the DRC. Views expressed herein do not represent SFCG, the Learning Portal or its partners or affiliates.