My name is Elizabeth Hutchinson and I am a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with Land O’Lakes International Development. My work focuses on evaluating United States Government-funded agriculture and food system development programs. Most people in the U.S. know of Land O’Lakes for its branded butter, but the division I work for has 30 years experience implementing international development programs that generate economic growth, improve health and nutrition, and alleviate poverty through market-driven business solutions.
Evaluation activities are integrated throughout the lifecycles of our programs – it is critical for our funders and because ongoing feedback enables us to quickly make programmatic course corrections. We often work with external host-country consultants who bring valuable localized knowledge and evaluation expertise to support our programs. I’d like to share a few lessons learned to improve the practice of working with local evaluators in international settings.
Lesson Learned – The capacity of local consultants varies greatly: Solicit proposals using RFAs from a variety of sources including universities, private organizations, and individuals. Keep in mind that some evaluation skills and expertise may overlap with other fields (i.e. economics, statistics, sociology, public health) which may be beneficial, depending on the evaluation question(s), subject area, and selected methodologies. Reviewing samples of past work (ie. reports, protocols, data sets) and checking references are both good ways to understand the skill sets and capacity of local consultants.
Lesson Learned – International settings can offer unique evaluation challenges: The political/social context in which the evaluation is being conducted may have implications on the quality and timeline. Use knowledgeable local informants to ensure your methodology, questions and timeline are appropriate to the local context. For example, you may not want to conduct household surveys in the month before a significant national election. Allowing a cushion is also critical, particularly if you have strict funder-mandated deadlines. We have found staggering deliverables (drafts, etc) throughout the project timeline to be helpful. There should be ample time built in to make significant changes before a hard/final deadline.
Lesson Learned – Open and ongoing communication is critical: Ensure that expectations around communications are clear and agreed upon upfront. Be explicit about the language you would like deliverables submitted in (i.e. most U.S. organizations likely expect reports in English). The submission/delivery mode should also be determined since sharing documents internationally can be difficult – identify the most appropriate way to share large electronic files, photos, or hardcopy reports, etc. since it can have resource implications. For example, e-mail submission may be more cost- and time-effective than requiring a printed/bound hard copy shipped from the field.
- IDEAS, International Development Evaluation Association
- RealWorld Evaluation: Working Under Budget, Time, Data, and Political Constraints (SAGE) by Michael Bamberger, Jim Rugh, and Linda Mabry.*
Would you like to discuss issues of capacity building in international development with Elizabeth? She’ll be presenting at Evaluation 2010, the annual conference of the American Evaluation Association this November. Search the online program to find Elizabeth’s roundtable or information about over 500 other sessions.
*AEA members receive 20% off of all books from SAGE when ordered directly from the publisher. If you are a member, sign on to the AEA website and select “Publications Discount Codes” from the “Members Only” menu to access the codes and process.