Hi, I am Laura Gagliardone. For about seven years I have collaborated with multilateral, bilateral and non-profit organizations geographically targeted to Africa, South Asia and the Middle East and focused in the following areas: research, communication, knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation, program planning, development and coordination.
RELEVANCE: I like thinking of evaluation as a way to improve programs and a chance to adjust activities accordingly to the lessons learned. A quality evaluation depends on the relevance of the quantitative and qualitative data collected and on using communication methods to raise stakeholders’ trust, interest, participation and contribution.
HOT TIP: Evaluation and communication are two disciplines which complement each other. For an evaluator, gathering and analyzing quality data is as important as transmitting the findings. Pay close attention to the communication flow among participants in order to create a positive setting where everybody is contributing to the success of the activity and gaining ownership and accountability.
HOT TIP: Position yourself as a networking hub of the program. Focus your interpersonal and communication skills in a way that installs trust, confidence and builds participant commitment. To minimize evaluation anxiety and to get a good overview of the context, an evaluator needs to be perceived as a community insider who becomes integrated and participates in daily activities.
LESSONS LEARNED: In one of the lowest income areas of Nairobi, Kenya, I evaluated an educational program for children. I used communication strategies to enhance the community’s participation and dialogue. For example, before flying to the country, I read about the cultural, economic and socio-political context and started interacting with people in the field using information and communication technologies. Once in the field, I began to empathize with locals by participating in their daily activities. While undertaking the evaluation I preferred face-to-face interviews especially with children; used open-ended questions and answers; and visited families in their houses, and brought little gifts and greeted them in ‘Kiswahili’. People in developing countries often live and work at a different speed than in Western societies, therefore they appreciate when they are given time. I have learned to appreciate peoples’ strong sense of community and capacity to interact and share. I have also noticed that individualism and independence are rarely exercised. Where possible, evaluators are advised to seek one-on-one interactions that elicit personal perspectives. As participatory techniques that elicit visioning and action planning by local community members, consider mapping exercises, supplying articles or short essays, writing brief notes, creating designs and even sharing recipes as analytical tools that inform the initiative. Enabling a participatory setting facilitates acceptance of the evaluation findings and increases ownership of the activities.
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