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.
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.
- The SAMEA 2015 conference produced papers looking at regional evaluation issues
- A workshop in 2012 review M&E systems in the region, and identified potential areas for collaboration.
- The Anglophone African dialogue report, which discussed key questions in the region for strengthening national evaluation systems.
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