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Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) Week: Investing in The Next Generation of Local Evaluators: Lessons Learned from CLEAR SA Efforts by Megha Pradhan

This week’s posts highlight reflections from the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI), a global network of organizations and experts working together to support the strengthening of monitoring, evaluation, and the use of evidence in developing countries. GEI uses an integrated systems-based approach and works closely with governments, evaluation professionals, and other stakeholders on efforts that are country-owned and aligned with local needs and perspectives.

I am Megha Pradhan, Director for the Center for Learning and Evaluation of Results – South Asia (CLEAR South Asia), which is a center for evaluation capacity development and an implementing partner of the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI).

A key ingredient for supporting country-owned and locally tailored evaluation approaches is building a cadre of local evaluators and researchers. There is growing evidence that the background of the researcher matters for what topics are studied, and howthey are studied, even beyond pertinent normative considerations. Young and emerging evaluators (YEEs), in particular, have immense potential to drive the evaluation and development agenda by asking new and policy relevant questions, using innovative methods and adapting M&E knowledge to local conditions.

Unfortunately, YEEs in the Global South continue to face systemic barriers: lack of exposure and practical experience, lack of mentorship and professional support, and issues of career development are just a few of them. The global M&E community recognizes these challenges and is taking action to address them;  for example, through the recently launched GEI internship program or the EvalYouth network, which seek to build the capacity of young and local evaluators.

CLEAR SA has spent many years on enhancing the skills of young and local evaluators through trainings, summer schools, internships and fellowship programs.  Reflecting on our work, here are some lessons we have learned:

  1. Different strokes for different folks: There is a tendency to think of young and emerging evaluators as a homogeneous group but it’s really a diverse spectrum. While a scholarship/bursary to a basic M&E training may be useful for a young student just getting acquainted with the world of monitoring and evaluation, targeting aspiring development researchers requires a more rigorous and immersive program. We developed the Research for Impact Fellowship program as a one-year program comprising multiple stages to strengthen the capacity of Indian PhD scholars in generating rigorous, policy-relevant evidence in India.
  2. Beyond technical skills: There is a huge appetite among YEEs to learn about the “softer skills” – be it writing proposals, project management, communication, or partnership management. These skills are not usually found in a regular M&E curriculum but can be imparted through hands-on learning programs.
  3. Value for money: While there are some fantastic initiatives structured as residential fellowships for young evaluators in top US universities, these also tend to be very expensive and small scale. Leveraging existing structures and learning initiatives within our organization, we were able to develop a low-cost fellowship program reaching a large number of doctoral students in India.
  4. A consultative and learning approach: Investing time and effort in brainstorming discussions with the pertinent stakeholders is time well-spent. We spoke with our current and formal doctoral students on the gaps they face and their learning objectives, as well as with faculty advisers, local academic institutions and government M&E agencies. This gave us new ideas and informed the content and design of our Fellowship Program. Over the last three years of the Fellowship Program, we have been going back to the drawing board and tweaking the design based on student feedback and experience. This effort has helped us improve the program and attract new applicants – with applications increasing from 56 in 2018 to 140 in 2022.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from GEI 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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