Hi, I’m Leandro Echt, a consultant, evaluator, and researcher in international development. The following reflections build on my experience working in international development, bridging the fields evaluation, evidence informed decision making, equity and social justice, and facilitation.
When conducting evaluations, we usually deal with complex problems that require a systemic approach that recognizes their multiple dimensions, elements, causes, symptoms, and the relationships between these. Being inclusive, listening to perspectives of diverse stakeholders, including different types of knowledge, and integrating them with other factors that affect decisions, and trying to create a common basis for collaborative action that acknowledges diverse needs and points of view, are systemic skills that allow us to move forward.
If we want to address complex problems with a systemic approach, then it is very important to consider who are the different stakeholders operating in a system, with their knowledge, their values, and their needs. The concept of knowledge ecosystems is a useful approach to the acknowledgement of how stakeholders can contribute to address a problem with their knowledge, and it is very relevant for evaluation efforts. According to Järvi, Almpanopoulou and Ritala, knowledge ecosystems “consist of users and producers of knowledge that are organized around a joint knowledge search” (2018, p. 1524).
This knowledge is generated in different spaces and is carried by different types of stakeholders: such as universities, public research institutions, civil society organizations, the government, the citizens, international organizations, for-profit firms, and other actors collaborate to create new knowledge. These stakeholders produce multiple types of knowledge, and there are many ways to conceptualize these. For instance, the UK charity INASP divides knowledge into four categories, which are interlinked and are often used simultaneously: data, research knowledge, practice-informed knowledge, and citizen (or participatory) knowledge. Each of the types of knowledge has its own value and complements the others.
Yet, because of historical patterns of relations as well as cultural and social norms, some types of knowledge received more attention than others, including in evaluation processes. Furthermore, because of a lack of interest, an explicit intention to invisibilize some types of knowledge, and barriers in access to resources to make some knowledge visible, the gap between mainstream knowledge and others type of knowledge that can inform decisions becomes problematic if we want to address complex problems with a systemic approach.
Knowledge traditionally excluded from Western dominant thinking (including research production) have received several labels: from indigenous knowledge to local knowledge, knowledge from the margins, citizen knowledge, experiential and practical knowledge, etc. Women’s experiences and knowledge also belong to this group.
As evaluators, acknowledging and doubling our efforts to be inclusive of other voices and experiences is relevant because addressing complex problems requires different perspectives, it contributes to more holistic end effective solutions, solutions that do not consider the experiences and values of certain groups can be harmful and reproduce hegemonic approaches, and finally, it’s about equity and justice. In evaluation efforts, it is important to be conscious and intentional about what stakeholders and sources are consulted, and design strategies to be more inclusive.
INASP (2016). An introduction to evidence-informed policy making: A practical handbook. Oxford.
Järvi, K., Almpanopoulou, A., & Ritala, P. (2018). Organization of knowledge ecosystems: Prefigurative and partial forms. Research Policy, 47(8), 1523-1537.
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