Ghazia Aslam and Sarah Smith Lunsford co-authored this post.
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all aspects of life—for everyone. Strategic and programmatic decisions are occurring, but often with incomplete, evolving, and sometimes inaccurate information. The pandemic and its fallout are prompting us to rethink evaluation in this context. This has created a novel set of circumstances in which existing “best practice” may not be applicable.
Although we have pivoted how we do evaluation activities in the environment of social/physical distancing, program designers and policymakers are faced with the impact of the global crisis on strategic and programmatic work. The pandemic has had a widespread effect on almost every sector. The economic impact of COVID-19 is clear, with activity sharply contracted around the globe, causing large populations to be unemployed and lose their livelihoods. We also expect a continuing political fallout as more and more people around the world lose access to voting and other democratic processes.
The fallout from the crisis is disproportionately affecting already women and other marginalized groups, including ethnic and political minorities. COVID-19 is also putting unprecedented pressure on governance systems to perform effectively and efficiently while ensuring those already marginalized are not left further behind.
Applying Evaluative Approaches in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Evaluating, analyzing, and adapting in response to these impacts is fundamental for effective future programming. We need to learn what works in these extraordinary circumstances, understand new pathways of change, and unearth the intended or unexpected impacts of these efforts. By asking these questions and building in evaluation at an early stage, as organizations are just beginning to pivot their programming, learning can guide adaptations and surface any issues at early stages of implementation.
This is especially important now, as we are working in complex environments—environments that are constantly in flux, with many interacting and interdependent elements. This situation will require continuous course corrections and information to guide them. Starting to think early about understanding the impact will enable us to set up systems to collect information necessary for post-crisis evaluations.
Guidance for Evaluation, Now and into the Future
In these challenging times, EnCompass is committed to helping clients understand their work in the new context. As we post this article, we are developing guidance for evaluating efforts to understand strategic and programmatic shifts in the current acute phase of the pandemic, as well as looking forward to evaluations in the chronic and post-pandemic phases. EnCompass’ expertise and experience in conducting culturally responsive evaluations with complexity-aware and systems framing, combined with our flexibility and agility, position us to support clients in examining the impact of their response across sectors and system levels. Watch this space for a new resource in the coming weeks.