When I started out in the nonprofit sector evaluators and consultants were aloof, external beings that descended to inform us of how well we were or were not doing; wrote dense impenetrable prose and made pronouncements that could close a project down.
Fortunately much has changed!
I do still believe that evaluation is a bit like an external audit process where someone comes in and provides a different view, and I believe that approach is important: it provides a fresh perspective when you might be too close to the work, it draws on experience that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to and it can build internal capacity.
That last point is important to me in my work and highlights what has changed in evaluation.
These days some organisations are asking external evaluators and consultants to support them for longer than just a mid-term review or a final evaluation, they want evaluation support from the start to the finish of the project: designing monitoring tools, providing a sounding board when things are tough. This is an exciting development and draws on a number of skills that good evaluators already have: being able to walk alongside an organisation as it does its work and not get involved, challenge and encourage the project team to go further and share significant expertise so that the project team can increase its own capacity to design and implement robust monitoring and evaluation plans.
I am luck enough to have had opportunities to work with organisations for longer periods and see teams grow in confidence and skill through the process. I am pleased that evaluation is evolving like this, but we consultants and evaluators couldn’t engage like this if we weren’t independent. That is our biggest contributing factor: we are outside the organisation, and we always should be.
Have you had the chance to work with evaluators or consultants so that your skills were enhanced? Do you want to?