Hello! Our names are Alejandro Imbach and Mine Pabari. We are independent evaluation consultants, focused on participatory, learning and utilisation evaluation. Mine is a member of the International Evaluation Academy (IEAc).
Recently, we conducted evaluations for two large scale programmes which involved multiple countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Both programmes focused on women’s rights with social justice values at their core. Our journey through these evaluations was rich and rewarding but also challenging. The context was complex, comprising a cacophony of cultures, values, voices, identities, and relationships. In this blog, we discuss a few aspects of the roles’ evaluators need to play where there is diversity to contribute to the transformational agendas of those involved – much of which speaks to the values of the IEAc – particularly Inclusivity and Courage.
Values are like a multi-faceted prism with intangible, shifting shades of colour and shape. Working with stakeholders to establish common ground of the values in play is an important role of evaluators in supporting transformational change agendas. To do so, evaluators need to be strong process facilitators, appreciate multi-cultural contexts and harness differences, tensions, and conflicts towards collective insights and knowledge.
During one of the evaluations, it emerged that there were divergent views around feminism – ranging from unwavering support for feminist principles and values to discomfort and beliefs that feminism conflicted with cultural values and principles. As evaluators, we needed to create spaces for the expression of differences in a manner that was safe and respectful. Because of our familiarity with the cultures and norms of the two regions with particularly polarised views (Latin America and Africa), we were able to recognise when there were differences and tensions (often silent and sometimes subconscious) and make explicit these disagreements, adjust, and adapt processes. We did so by regularly pausing to reflect amongst ourselves on the dynamics (power and relationships) that we could see emerging (influenced by, for example, hierarchy, position, language, capacities, cultural expression, and personalities) and adapting our design, process, and tools in response.
Central to our ability to navigate this diversity was the evaluation commissioner (our client) –
In one of the initiatives, the client appreciated that evaluations are also political processes and the importance of deliberately engaging with values, power, and privilege. We were able to adjust and navigate because we could work with our client to identify ways in which to unearth (common and divergent) values at different stages of the evaluation.
In the other initiative, power and privilege emerged as a significant barrier to creating spaces for equal voice. The client was close to engaging with the power dynamics and as all processes were virtual (due to COVID restrictions), our ability to build trust to navigate these barriers was limited. We also realised that the client placed higher priority on symbolic use of the evaluation as opposed to learning or supporting their transformational change agenda.
In reflecting back, we realise that we should have spent more time and energy during the design/inception phase for building a shared understanding of values and interests and implications for the evaluation methodology and approach. We emerged with a stronger appreciation that the transformational potential of evaluations is heavily influenced by the willingness of individuals involved to adapt, share power and privilege in favour of greater equity – a willingness that cannot be assumed even in social justice initiatives.
We used this resource for facilitation tools: http://liberatingstructures.com/;
and this helpful discussion around power: https://reconference.creaworld.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/All-About-Power-Srilatha-Batliwala.pdf
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