CEA Affiliate Week: Committing to Building Local Evaluation Capacity for International Projects by Casey Solomon-Filer

Hello everyone. My name is Casey Solomon-Filer and I am an evaluation consultant in the Chicago area with a background in international development. Working as a project assistant outside of the US, I was drawn to evaluation as a method of shifting the power of decision-making from international funders to local communities. Over the past few years, I moved the focus of my work from international projects to more local and national evaluations. I think evaluation jobs should go to people who live in the country, who know the culture, who are a part of the community. Local evaluators can mean better projects and maximizing the project funding going into the local economy.

However, that’s not always how things work out. I am currently consulting on a youth vocational training project in Yemen, a beautiful and amazing country where I lived and worked for almost four years. The team had tried to hire a local evaluator, but there are few in the area and the team could not find an appropriate match. Foreigners have left Yemen, so someone else on the ground was not possible.  They brought me on towards the latter half of the project to help the team identify gaps in data for reporting. My role necessitates collaboration with mostly one person, but as we have worked together we have started bringing the entire team into our discussions on evaluation skills and evaluative thinking. This blog post is about why I am trying to focus on helping the local team to build evaluation capacity and evaluative thinking skills when working on international projects.

Lessons Learned:

  • Helping local team members to develop evaluation capacity and evaluative thinking skills will help them to move into evaluation roles in the future. In areas where local evaluators do not seem to be an option, focusing on building skills and understanding seems like the most ethical approach I can take.
  • Make time to discuss values and ethics. Share the AEA Guiding Principles, the DAC Criteria for Evaluating Development Assistance, or other relevant evaluation association guidelines with the team, and discuss how those guidelines apply to the project. I find these discussions to be the most rewarding as we identify and unite around our shared values and hopes for the community.
  • Cultural Responsiveness is paramount. I remind myself that I may have more experience in evaluation, but everyone in the country of Yemen knows the culture, language, and sociopolitical complexities of the moment much more than I ever will. I am there to serve them.

Hot Tip:

Rad Resource:

  • Timothy Mitchell’s Rule of Experts helped me to better put into context and question the complex power structures of international development, history, and modern imperialism.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Chicagoland Evaluation Association (CEA) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from CEA 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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