Transformative Leadership Fellowships Need Transformative Evaluation Approaches by Barbara Klugman

Hi, my name is Barbara Klugman. I offer strategy and evaluation support and facilitate a number of peer learning initiatives in support of network, funder and NGO social justice efforts. From 2017-2019, I was the developmental evaluator for the ‘incubation’ of Tekano: Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity and in 2020 I both facilitated a peer learning process among 17 South Africa-based fellowship programmes and reviewed the experience of alumni of the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership.

One conundrum faced by many leadership fellowship programmes is how to assess if and in what ways fellows draw on the new ideas, values, skills and relationships gained during these programmes to promote social change in their work or subsequent activism. The traditional evaluation approach has been to track fellows’ career trajectories and activities through surveys and interviews. In some cases social network analysis is used to assess shifts in whether and how fellows leverage their relationships with each other. However fellows can experience these approaches as extractive and may not respond.

Lessons Learned

The evaluation process has to mirror the values of transformative leadership that the fellowship programmes aim to enable, in particular collective leadership and inclusion. This has two immediate implications.

Lesson 1: Fellows and alumni need to participate in defining what achievement of programme objectives could look like and be part of the process of assessing if and how well the programme is delivering. They have to feel that the programme is theirs so that they are invested in it doing well. Hence they see value in contributing information about their own trajectories and influence in order to build an overall understanding of how the fellowship and alumni programmes are contributing towards social change outcomes.

Lesson 2: As far as possible, the processes of the programme have to serve the needs of the fellows /alumni while also providing insights needed for evaluation and learning, rather than being separate activities. For example, storytelling about fellow/alumni projects, journeys, challenges, and achievements acts as a source of validation of learning and inspiration to other fellows and consolidates solidarity and a trusting environment for problem-solving. I also enables the harvesting of outcomes to become part of the pool of data to understand if and how fellows are having an influence in their social change endeavors, which in turn fosters emergent learning on how the programme could be strengthened.

Rad Resources

For approaches used by different programmes, see Klugman 2021 Evaluating Leadership Fellowship Programmes: Report on challenges and lessons .

For ideas on the values and processes required to build a shared leadership learning process, see Wenger-Trayner 2021 Systems Convening: A crucial form of leadership for the 21st century.

For the process of fostering emergent learning, see: Darling et al 2016 Emergent Learning: A framework for whole-system strategy, learning and adaptation.  

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