APC TIG Week: Building international teams to evaluate international advocacy initiatives by Carlisle Levine and Toyin Akpan

Hello! We are Carlisle Levine with BLE Solutions in the United States and Toyin Akpan with Auricle Services in Nigeria. We served as evaluation partner to Champions for Change Nigeria, an initiative that builds Nigerian NGOs’ evaluation capacities of to more effectively advocate for policies and programs that support women’s and children’s health. Through this experience, we learned important lessons about international partnerships and their value for advocacy evaluation.

Lesson Learned: Why building international teams is important for advocacy evaluation?

Much advocacy measurement relies on access, trust and accurately interpreting information provided.

  • Assessing advocacy capacity: Many advocacy capacity assessment processes rely on advocates’ self-reporting, often validated by organizational materials. For advocates to answer capacity assessment questions honestly, trust is required. That trust is more easily built with evaluators from the advocates’ context.
  • Assessing advocacy impact: Timelines and document reviews can identify correlations between advocates’ actions and progress toward policy change. However, reducing uncertainty about the contribution of an initiative to observed results often requires triangulating interview sources, including relevant policymakers. An evaluator from a specific policy context is more likely to gain access to policymakers and accurately interpret the responses they provide.

In advocacy evaluation, an evaluation teammate from a specific policy context ideally:

  • Understands the context;
  • Is culturally sensitive;
  • Has relationships that give her access to key stakeholders, such as policymakers;
  • Knows local languages;
  • Can build trust more quickly with evaluation participants;
  • Knows appropriate data collection approaches; and
  • Can correctly interpret data collected.

An evaluation teammate from outside a specific policy context ideally helps ensure that:

  • An evaluation is informed by other contexts;
  • Additional critical questions are raised; and
  • Additional alternative perspectives are considered.

Rad Resources: How did we find each other?

We did not know each other before this partnership. We found each other through networking, and then interviewed each other and checked each other’s past work.

There are a number of other resources we could have used to find each other:

Hot Tips: How did we make it work?

How did we make it work?

  • We communicated frequently to get to know each other. Building trust was critical to our partnership’s success.
  • We stayed in touch using Skype, phone, WhatsApp and email.
  • We were open to each other’s ideas and input.
  • We were sensitive to our cross-cultural communication.
  • We learned about our complementary evaluation skills: Carlisle wrote succinctly, while Toyin collected and analyzed data in the Nigerian context. Over time, our expectations of each other and the speed with which we worked improved.
  • We made our partnership a learning experience, seeking opportunities to strengthen our skills and to present our findings.

Building our international evaluation team took effort. As a result of our investment, we provided our client with more nuanced and accurate insights to inform initiative improvement, and we grew as evaluators.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating APC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Advocacy and Policy Change Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our AP TIG members. 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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