Locally-led MEL Week: Connecting to the Implementer Early in Evaluation by Femi Gisanrin

My name is Femi Gisanrin, and I have spent the past 12 years providing monitoring, evaluation, and learning support to donors and implementers across Nigeria. These experiences have led me to reflect on the importance of engaging the implementer in evaluation and how inclusion impacts the effectiveness of our work. The implementers and other stakeholders provide clarity on the relevance of evaluation questions, propose methods to assess the beneficiaries and opinions to make evaluation recommendations actionable.

Lesson Learned:

Engage Implementers in Evaluations

Why engage implementers during the evaluation process? I guess most implementers will see evaluation as a learning process that can improve their implementation, especially for midline evaluations. We should consider shifting our thinking about evaluations from something that happens to implementers into something that is directly tied to how an implementer learns from and engages with its daily environment. Implementers spend months and years developing relationships with external stakeholders, and evaluations could be an opportunity for strengthening those relationships and increasing stakeholders’ input into evaluation. 

We should foster an implementing partner’s commitment to an evaluation from the onset—through development of evaluation questions, stakeholder mapping etc. This serves as a means of building trust and understanding. It also enhances stakeholder’s confidence in recognizing that evaluation is a learning tool that can help to improve the quality of their work and not an activity for fault finding. This will in turn improve the use of evaluation findings by the implementer and other stakeholders. At the end, it has an added benefit of eliminating bureaucratic letters of differences that may come out of poor engagement of the implementer and their insufficient understanding of the evaluation processes. Most implementers see evaluations as scrutinizing their work and often assume that an independent evaluator cannot understand what they do. This misconception of what evaluation is not can be clarified from the onset.  

Why is documenting key lessons from the implementer important? —the people who carry out the daily work—can also help in refining evaluation questions to better enable adaptive management of the implementing partners in the field. Implementing partners also facilitate acceptance of the evaluation team during data collection and field work. They can provide unique access and insight to the local context, both by explaining the depth of their engagement with stakeholders (and how the evaluation team can best engage with stakeholders) and the types of interferences that have arisen throughout implementation. By interference, I mean other contextual information in the field that may be making implementation difficult. A typical example is providing technical assistance while others are providing hand-outs to beneficiaries in the same environment. These hand-outs are short-term help that address immediate needs of beneficiaries. Often, beneficiaries will prefer these over the technical assistance that attempts to solve longer-term problems, thus undermining the implementer’s progress.     

In conclusion, early engagement of the implementing partners in the evaluation can improve learning and knowledge development among all stakeholders, particularly to understand the experiences of stakeholders and project beneficiaries working with different donors. Ultimately, creating more opportunities for engagement promotes wider dissemination and use of your evaluation results.  

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