AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

TAG | action research

I’m Caitlin Blaser Mapitsa, working with CLEAR Anglophone Africa to coordinate the Twende Mbele programme, a collaborative initiative started by the governments of Uganda, Benin, and South Africa to strengthen national M&E systems in the region. The programme is taking an approach of “peer learning and exchange” to achieve this, in response to an overall weak body of knowledge about methods and approaches that are contextually relevant.

Lessons Learned:

Since 2007, the African evaluation community has been grappling with what tools and approaches are best-suited to “context-responsive evaluations” in Africa. Thought leaders have engaged on this thorough various efforts, including a special edition of the African Journal of Evaluation, a Bellagio conference, an AfrEA conference, the Anglophone and Francophone African Dialogues, and recently a stream in the 2015 SAMEA conference.

Throughout these long-standing discussions, practitioners, scholars, civil servants and others have debated the methods and professional expertise that are best placed to respond to the contextual complexities of the region. Themes emerging from the debate include the following:

  • Developmental evaluations are emerging as a relevant tool to help untangle a context marked by decentralized, polycentric power that often reaches beyond traditional public sector institutions.
  • Allowing evaluations to mediate evidence-based decision making among diverse stakeholders, rather than an exclusively learning and accountability role, which is more relevant for a context where there is a single organizational decision maker.
  • Action research helps in creating a body of knowledge that is grounded in practice.
  • Not all evidence is equal, and having an awareness of the kind of evidence that is valued, produced, and legitimized in the region will help evaluators ensure they are equipped with methods which recognize this.

Peer learning is an often overlooked tool for building evaluation capacity. In Anglophone Africa there is still a dearth of research on evaluation capacity topics. There is too little empirical evidence and consensus among stakeholders about what works to strengthen the role evaluation could play in bringing about better developmental outcomes.

Twende Mbele works to fill this knowledge gap by building on strengths in the region. At Twende Mbele, we completed a 5 month foundation period to prepare for the 3 year program. This is now formalizing peer learning as an approach that will ensure our systems strengthening work is appropriate to the regional context, and relevant to the needs of collaborating partners.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Centers for Learning on Evaluation and Results (CLEAR) week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from members of CLEAR. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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My name is Takayoshi Kusago, professor in Social System Design, Faculty of Sociology, Kansai University, Japan.  I teach fieldwork method and action research at the university.  Action research does require collaboration among researchers and practitioners – similar to empowerment evaluation.  Here I would like to share tips for those who are interested in action-oriented research.

Hot Tip: Action research is not a pure scientific research which aims at theorizing something or finding some evidence to support existing theories.  Rather, it aims at contributing to improve well-beings of the people engaged in some form of social action.  This is easy to say but not easy to do.  Researchers, especially those who are in the academia, tend to prioritize publication as outcome– journal papers or books.  This priority making may not fit well with the priority order made by practitioners.  To avoid such differences in priority-setting, it is critical to have constant communication among the team members, including both researchers and practitioners.  I always place high on “listening skills” to establish good communication.  If you think you talk first than others, please start changing your manner from talking first to listening first.  Eventually, team-based priority order could be made over time.

Rad Resource: I carry a digital video-camera and a IC-recorder for record purpose as well as for team building.  Pictures, videos and digital recordings are easily shared among members and others.  For team meetings, video-conferencing by Skype saves time and money, which is a powerful tool, too.

Rad Resource: KJ-method.  KJ-method is developed by Jiro Kawakita, a Japanese anthropologist in the 1960s and 1970s for data analysis.  I use this method for group-based work to clarify project objectives, potentials, hardships, and others.  This exercise helps the team to find out the key problems and issues of the concerned action. Here is a link for more information on Jiro Kawakita and the KJ-method: http://bit.ly/Kawakita

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

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