Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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Evaluators: Are we still the Bad Guys?

Author, Copyright Holder: 
Jack Farrell

“Evaluator;” say it five times in the mirror and a guy will appear behind you armed with survey questions and a red pen, ready to criticize your life’s work. It’s just like your favorite childhood horror stories imagined.


Despite our best efforts (and a definite improvement!), it appears that we live in a world where program staff are the heroes, we are the villains trying to undo their work. Evaluators are the bad guys.


After the first day of Evaluation 2016, I kept thinking about John Gargani’s remark that “evaluation is the largest profession that no one has ever heard of” to a room of 1000 evaluation professionals from across the globe. There’s an irony to it but it was immediately affirmed when a member of staff at the conference asked me, “what is an evaluator?” In addition to the beautiful comedic timing, this question also highlights two of the main obstacles to evaluation becoming a cornerstone of good practice; visibility & understanding.


Fundamentally, our goal is to create more effective programming. We want to make sure that we can learn from our failures, our successes and move forward. The issue comes in our ability to communicate the value of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) to those who don’t consider themselves M&E professionals. There’s a fear of the unknown when it comes to M&E. These are not new issues, but as a field we are moving towards new solutions. How can we design a more inclusive M&E? How can we thoughtfully and meaningfully  address the fear of the unknown so that evaluators are no longer bogeymen (and women!) but partners in continuing improvement?


This falls on us. It’s our role to show the importance of effective monitoring and evaluation. It’s our role to demonstrate the value of effective monitoring and evaluation through helping to establish better programming. Let's be clear, we are making progress and the growth in both adaptive management and developmental evaluation shows that we are moving in the right direction but we still have a long way to go.


AEA is tackling these issues with new vigor this week, and DME for Peace will be continuing these conversations this winter as we host The Breaking Barriers in Participation & Inclusion in Peacebuilding Evaluation Conference in Cape Town. And who knows, maybe someday soon we’ll get to be the good guys we all aim to be.


Be sure to follow @DMEforPeace on Twitter for live updates throughout the conference!


You pose some great question within this post. M&E is a valuable tool in any and every work place, if done effectively. The fear you speak of is all too common, when business people are in a meeting and hear they are going to be evaluated, the first thought is that someone is getting fired. The assumption that evaluators are here to 'ruin' a company’s work is something not only effective communication can help, but also the framing of that communication. Simply saying " we're not here to change anything,” means nothing because you already lost your audience. Establishing criteria in which you hold yourselves accountable when it comes to goals, outputs and outcomes to evaluating a company are critical. There are the occasional cases where a CEO does indeed want to find the weak links and fire them. But the majority of the time, they want to make sure they are being as effective as possible and can excel in all areas. It is our role to demonstrate the value of effective monitoring and evaluation, within that however; you need to not only establish the role of evaluations to the business owners, but more importantly to the general staff. 


            Reframing and establishing a collaborative atmosphere within the company in which you are working can be extremely helpful not only to you as the evaluator, but also to the employees so we are not seen as the bad guy. But simply stating we are not the bad guys (or girls) will not do the trick, maybe evaluating what it is about evaluators that intimidates people can be a first step in changing this mindset.