It is a huge privilege to watch organisations grow and develop, helping them at critical moments to get over obstacles and learn from interventions and past experiences.
Some evaluators are content not to engage too deeply with their clients for fear of increasing the bias in their evaluation. There are others who argue that since we cannot eradicate bias from evaluating social development programmes anyway, we shouldn’t try and should take a totally different approach. For me, reality is somewhere in-between. I believe you can reduce bias, but also believe that it shouldn’t stop you from getting to know an organisation really well and spending time walking alongside an organisation to understand what is working or not working.
That way you can challenge the organisation to consider whether what they are doing is getting them closer to their vision or, if what is actually happen is so much better, so maybe the vision needs to change or be reconsidered. Clients of course do initially find it unusual when they have an external evaluator who is prepared to engage like this, but over time, find the additional resource useful and valuable. If you can add in capacity building of the team into the mix, then you’ve got something really special in that relationship with your evaluator.
I will always advocate that evaluation should be independent, but it is important that evaluators realise that getting to know an organisation is crucial to being able to finally provide an opinion on whether it is effective at delivering social impact in the longer term, and we are all asked that opinion at some point or other.
Would you find a closer, longer relationship with your evaluator useful? Evaluators, would you welcome the chance to have a longer, closer relationship with your clients?