Feminist TIG Week: Michael Bamberger on The importance of a complexity lens for gender equality and women’s empowerment evaluations

Hi there!  I’m Michael Bamberger and I have worked on gender evaluation with civil society, UN, foundations, and bilateral donor agencies.  The longer you work in this field, the more you recognize the complexity of the processes and outcomes you are trying to understand.

There is growing recognition that many development programs are complex. They have many components, multiple funders and implementing agencies, and even more stakeholders – usually with different objectives.   Programs are also influenced by multiple external factors (e.g. economic, political and institutional), affecting how they are designed and implemented, as well as their outcomes.  Finally, the processes of change result from multiple, non-linear causal chains, which are difficult to identify and measure.

All these dimensions are critical for evaluating gender equality and women’s empowerment (“gender” for short) dimensions of development programs.  The following are some of the common complexity issues in gender evaluation:

  • Societies have multiple social control mechanisms determining the “appropriate” behavior of women and men in the household, community, work place and the wider political arena. Many gender programs must include multiple components to simultaneously address a wide range of social control mechanisms.  Consequently,  innovative, complexity-responsive evaluation designs are required.
  • Given the many mechanisms of social control that resist change, a common phenomenon is “one step forward and two steps back” as initial successes in one area (such a women’s access to mobile phones or access to markets through micro-credit) can encounter “push-back”. This means that recursive, non-linear models of change must be used.
  • Gender programs also produce many subtle forms of behavioral change (such as how spouses make decisions on household expenditures), that are difficult to observe and measure.

Lesson Learned:  I’ve been working with some of my colleagues on a five-step approach to the evaluation of complex, gender-focused development programs.  It includes elements of “unpacking” and “reassembling” concepts and methods.

  • Step 1: Holistic analysis of the nature of the program and the context in which it operates.
  • Step 2:“Unpacking” programs into a set of components, each of which can be analyzed separately. This approach permits the use of conventional evaluation methods for evaluating each component
  • Step 3: Identifying the unit of analysis  for each component evaluation
  • Steps 4 and 5: “Reassembling” the findings of the individual evaluations to understand the overall effects of the program within the broader context within which it operates.

We are hoping this will assist evaluators in ensuring that gender evaluations take into consideration the complex framework within which these programs are implemented and evaluated.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Feminist Issues in Evaluation (FIE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the FIE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our FIE 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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