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Conducting Evaluations and Writing Reports: Same Object, Two Different Realms by Sara Vaca

Hi, I’m Sara Vaca, independent evaluator working in international development evaluation, helping Sheila curate this blog and being a Saturday contributor, and I want to share with you a short reflection on something that is bugging me lately.

Conducting an evaluation is a process: a rich, participatory, multi-partner, multidimensional process, that has to be later condensed, reflected, gathered in a report (a product), that is unidimensional, static and written by the evaluation leader or team. I have realized some time ago that those two parts of the assignment, equally important, are soooo different! And this represents a challenge in my practice, as I wonder: how can I make the report better represent the process?

Cool Trick: First, of course, try to make the evaluation process as technically good and adapted to the commissioners’ needs as possible. If the process is not good (see this related post), nobody is probably going to care about the report. In general, I enjoy conducing the evaluation process so much, and the feedback about the process is usually good or very good.

Ok, but what about the report?

That is when the second, less rewarding in my experience phase starts.

No matter what you get as findings, internal validity of the process has so far granted me acceptance during the debriefing and validation phase. However, the evaluation users are waiting to see it in a document, clearly stated and articulated, to be able to read it and assimilate what you saw through the process. And at that point, I notice a slight change of attitudes in them, and in consequence in me, as I have to adapt:

And I totally understand: the process is a soft activity and not easy to see the traces of it, but the report is the hard activity, and what it says, stays there forever… Still I find it very interesting how both parts of the same assignment differ in so many things.

Hot Tip: The only thing I’m doing so far is to make the materials in the debriefing presentation very consistent with the evaluation report. How I do that? I create summaries and visuals for my Powerpoint presentation (that I share with them when I leave the country) that will later be quite similarly reproduced in the draft.

However, looking forward to your ideas and tips… How do you reconcile these two equally important parts of evaluation? Thanks!

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