Strengthening Evaluation Capacity in Africa

May 04, 2017

What is the future of evaluation in Africa? This is a question on many minds as evaluation professionals ponder global trends in their industry. Participants at the 2017 African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) International Conference in Kampala, Uganda, discussed cultural context at length and generally agreed that increasing African-led evaluations in Africa should be a priority. Kelsey Simmons, Evaluation Specialist at EnCompass, participated in these discussions, where she learned that EnCompass’ efforts to build a partner- or mentorship-style relationship with African evaluators in order to strengthen their capacity were both needed and appreciated.

We sat down with Kelsey upon her return to learn more about her experience at the AfrEA International conference.

Could you summarize your involvement at the AfrEA International Conference? 

Kelsey Simmons: I was lucky enough to represent EnCompass at the 8th AfrEA Conference. I presented two different abstracts about EnCompass' work.  One was on the capacity building model we used in the MacArthur Foundation Maternal Health Accountability Portfolio, and the second was on the design and use of an Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) for the community of organizations working on Stillbirth issues. (More information about Kelsey’s presentation is available at this link.) I also had the opportunity to engage with evaluators, educators, government officials, and donor agencies from all over the world.

Who attended the conference?

KS: The conference was attended by over 600 evaluation professionals working in universities, governments, non-governmental organizations, multi-lateral organizations, and private companies. Attendees traveled from 75 countries overall, with a majority of participants from 36 African countries.

What was the response to EnCompass’ work?

KS: We received a lot of positive feedback from evaluators interested in how to apply EnCompass’ models to their work in health, education, and capacity building. 

In discussing the MacArthur capacity building model, I asked participants to provide feedback on if and how we could improve our model in future projects, and what other methods they had used for capacity building. One group suggested that future evaluations engage not only the grantees but also the beneficiaries in the evaluation design and data consultation meetings, as a way to ensure all stakeholder advice is incorporated. Another group responded that this was "one of the most comprehensive capacity building models we have seen" but that they wish my Nigerian colleagues, who were key parts of our evaluation team, would have also been able to attend AfrEA to present the work alongside me.

This comment led to a rich conversation about the need for more donors and evaluators to design projects that enhance the M&E capacity of beneficiaries while utilizing the existing strength of African evaluators. These tasks may seem rare in many international development projects to date, though participants recognized they were accomplished in the MacArthur grant.

What were some important ideas that emerged during the conference?

KS: During a session called "Made in Africa" evaluation, attendees discussed multiple themes that had come out of the conference. The need to continue to build the capacity of evaluators in the global south, through south-south cooperation, was a key sub-theme. Many participants said the global north should adapt more of a partnership and mentorship model that utilized the existing capacity of the global south while leveraging knowledge in the global north. 

This idea resonated with me and I found it especially relevant to the way we approach evaluation and capacity building at EnCompass. EnCompass engages with our clients as partners, supporting local capacity while trying to leverage our expertise to increase the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness. After these conversations at AfrEA, I feel our approach will serve us well moving into the future of evaluation in Africa. 

What did you find most rewarding about having attended?

KS:  Having the opportunity to meet, listen, and learn from my African colleagues--in both formal presentation sessions and informal conversations during lunches and coffee--was extremely rewarding. Through the conversations around evaluation trends and innovations in Africa, I have returned to EnCompass with new ideas on how to expand our work to best support evaluation in Africa in the future. 

Thank you, Kelsey.

Kelsey Simmons is an Evaluation Specialist at EnCompass. You can find more info about her background here.

More information about the two projects related to the abstracts she presented at the AfrEA conference is available at the following links:

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Kelsey Simmons supports EnCompass' technical assistance and evaluation work, contributing...

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