IED UN Week: Lessons Learned by Demetra Arapakos

My name is Demetra Arapakos and I am a Chief of Section in IED/OIOS.

If there is one thing I’ve learned during my three decades as an evaluator, it is that you always keep learning!  Given the challenges our office faces (that you may have been reading about this week), learning from what did not go well and identifying good practices from what did are critical to our success.  This requires both being open to new ideas and approaches and understanding and respecting how things have been done in the past. And if you do it right, a lesson learned becomes a good practice.

I’ve also learned that one of our greatest values as evaluators is to take a lot of information, make sense of it, and then communicate it clearly and succinctly. So I will limit myself to the top 5 “short and sweet” lessons learned/good practices in conducting evaluation in the UN.  Here we go!

  1. Ask the right questions, and figure out how you are going to answer them. We had a blog earlier this week about scoping – a critical step to a successful evaluation.  Without the right design, the rest of the process won’t work.
  2. Triangulation works. We hear this a lot, but it is especially true in the UN, where reliable organizational data are missing and goals are huge. Numbers convey outcomes, but they don’t tell you how or why outcomes were achieved (or not).  For that, you need to understand how people think and why they do what they do. So using direct observation, interviews and focus groups in addition to the more quantitative methods allows you to see the fuller picture.
  3. Don’t forget to point out what’s working well in addition to what’s not working well. There is as much value in validating a good practice or positive outcome as there is in identifying inefficiency or ineffectiveness.
  4. Clarity and simplicity go a long way. We aren’t doing our job if we can’t communicate what we are evaluating, how we are evaluating it and what we find.  In the political world of the UN, this is essential. Making the complex appear simple is an art.
  5. Above all else, be humble. UN staff have challenging jobs, often in demanding conditions, and it’s been my experience that most want to make a positive difference in this world. We gain credibility when we take the time to understand and acknowledge the environment they work in, and the tough goals they are trying to achieve.  We should never think we have all the answers to the difficult issues that capable people have been trying to solve for a long time.  Our office at times places too much emphasis on recommendations, whereas some of the most impactful evaluations I’ve worked on had no recommendations at all, but rather provided objective and evidence-based data that senior leaders needed to support their deliberations and decisions.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Inspection and Evaluation Division (IED) of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight ServicesAll posts this week are contributed by evaluators who work in IED. 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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