Welcome to week #8, the final week of the ECDG Blog Series! Following our ECDG Global Scanning Project conducted last year and presented at the American Evaluation Association Conference in Washington DC in October 2013 (http://www.ecdg.net/2013/11/19/preliminary-results-of-ecd-global-scan/), ECDG decided to develop a weekly blog series on some of the most interesting ECD themes that emerged in the course of all our interviews with ECD practitioners around the world. Our blog this week will cover a fundamental topic in ECD practice:
ECD and Sustainability
(Posted by Karen Russon, ECDG President)
This will be the concluding blog of our ECD Weekly Blog Series around the themes that emerged from last year’s ECD Global Scan. It has been stimulating and thought-provoking to examine and compare the ECD stories, each being unique in context and approach. The thread that connects them all is the issue of sustainability.
Developing evaluation capacity, as in any type of development, is a process. Evaluation capacity is not static but an organic process taking place in a system encompassing more than the organization itself. There are ever-changes factors within this environmental: economic and political events that impact us, personnel turnovers, policy and programming shifts, new budgetary constraints, on and on. There is no one size-fits-all ECD plan. So if that is the case, how do we sustain such a process with so many unknowns? How is it possible to maintain political will and conserve management and staff enthusiasm? The keys lie in the themes that we have discussed over the past seven weeks.
The Timing of ECD
There was a reason we began this blog series with the theme of timing. “First, it matters when you start ECD and how ECD is eased into the organization’s schedule. Second, it counts how you chronologically sequence the activities of which your ECD program consists.” Timing is everything.
Adding another dimension to the timing issue: by continually monitoring an ECD initiative, one is better able to judge when to intervene as factors, such as those mentioned above, affect the current course you are taking. Changes in political or financial situations have caused organizations to reassess their institutional infrastructure. For example, evaluation initially housed in an independent unit may be divested with evaluators imbedded within programming departments. Plans may change but planning should go on.
Quoting John C. Maxwell in our second blog, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. Otherwise said, successful leaders motivate followers to embrace not only their vision but also the ensuing changes that take place on the path to realizing that vision.
Leadership will be at the helm of ECD interventions and should be the driving force to sustain these efforts. Leaders, themselves, should have a vision for evaluation as they will play an important role in shaping a healthy organizational culture for evaluation. However, the organization as a whole – governance, management, staff, and other actors involved – must develop a shared vision for evaluation. It takes insightful, creative and resolute leaders to bring about a shared vision. ECD sustainability won’t be possible with just one person’s vision. It needs to be shared by all to develop a lasting, positive evaluation culture.
An emphasis on the importance of a shared vision was carried into our third blog. “…make sure to get all the key ECD actors involved and work with them to clarify the difference between the distinct -but complementary-purposes and implementation modalities of Monitoring and Evaluation. Also make sure to enhance clarity on the relevance of both M and E to your existing client’s/organizational needs.” This was mentioned in the context of an ECD Advisor setting up the content of an initial intervention. Content relevance is critical to sustaining the process as well.
Michele went on to suggest, “ECD risks becoming a sterile exercise with no immediate practical relevance if evaluation knowledge and skills are promoted for their own sake. Mainstreaming evaluation concepts in other ongoing areas of technical capacity development might be the most productive and rewarding strategy to pursue to enhance the evaluation uptake within an organization.”
The ECD Advisor
External consultants often conduct evaluation about or for organizations. These same individuals can make contractual arrangements with organizations to help them develop their own capacity to do so. They then take on the role of ECD Advisor as discussed in our fourth blog. This role may also be played by internal personnel or come from partner organizations.
In terms of sustainability, the role of the ECD Advisor depends on the sophistication and level of evaluation capacity of an organization. In some cases, external expertise is required for a specific task: to assist in developing an evaluation strategy; support the creation of evaluation policy; or strengthen specific evaluation capabilities at a particular point in time such as data collection, analysis and reporting. If an ECD Advisor is available for when questions come up and other needs arise, sustainability is enhanced.
In blog five on ECD alignment, Michele suggested as a helpful sustainability strategy, “…it could be useful to link organizations with each other so as to allow an alignment of their internal M&E system.”
“By promoting ECD alignment, I am…encouraging organizations to find common and cost-effective solutions to their information needs and operational questions. During the planning of your ECD program, for instance, you could look at what tools other organizations have used to measure a certain construct you are interested in measuring and, for the sake of avoiding replication and waste or resources, adopt those very same existing tools. Besides freeing up resources (e.g., for the development of other tools or the set up of an information management system within your organization), ECD alignment would foster the use of identical indicators and, as a result of increased data aggregation, the availability of data that could then inform decision- and policy-making. This is even more relevant if such alignment not only takes place at the local level, but also at the provincial, district, regional and national one.” When it is possible to demonstrate a more efficient use of resources, the avoidance of redundancy, and enhanced collaboration, ECD sustainability is more likely to be maintained.
ECD Partnerships and Collaboration
Speaking of collaboration, we focused on this theme in week 6 by stating, “…well-matched ECD partnerships create a synergy: strong partners help to strengthen weaker ones and equally capable partners succeed in complementing each other. Partnering to develop evaluation capacity may be an extension of an ongoing collaborative relationship.” Whatever the initial reason that partnerships are formed, they can become a source of promoting the sustainability of ECD within any single partner or member.
Should leadership change or budgets wain, if strong partnerships exist, cross-organizational colleagues may be in a unique position to help keep the evaluation function vibrant. Joint trainings, coaching and mentoring, and collaborative evaluation activities are a few of the ways to make this happen. And besides, having friends among collaborative colleagues makes the process more creative, inspirational and fun. Now there’s a sustainability booster.
ECD Sustainability in the Global Scan Stories
Let’s take a look at how sustainability figured into a few of the stories from the ECD Global Scan.
In the Alaskan story, it appears that fundamental to the sustainability of evaluation is the ability to maintain its relevance to the native people. The collaborative support of tribal leaders, appropriate training approaches by academic institutions and employment opportunities for young native evaluators entering the field all play a part.
We saw how a small organization could integrate learning activities in a more flexible, creative manner than its counterparts in highly regulated institutions such a government. The leadership of the evaluation function may be purposefully spread out across departmental heads. This was the case for a community theater in Southwest Michigan. The departmental managers of the Civic Theater in Kalamazoo, Michigan with an organizational “commitment to continuous quality improvement,” were found to have integrated evaluative activities throughout the theater’s operations. When evaluation is an integral part of the organizational culture, sustainability is more assured.
CDRA in South Africa shared their story of ECD with us. They are currently halfway through a 2-year ECD initiative consisting of four action learning events aimed at senior management from nine local civil society organizations. These events, which will be followed by individualized coaching and organizational development support at a later stage, aim at strengthened M&E systems using practical materials from real experiences.
Below are some sustainability-related gems provided by Sue Soal of CDRA:
Evaluation is not a purely functional and rational part of organisational life. It involves power and the exercising of power throughout the system: in relation to donors, governance bodies and external stakeholders; in relation to clients and users and in relation to colleagues and internal organisational life. ECD demands that power – and the issues of motivation, method and accountability – be worked with in order for that capacity to be effectively developed.
Evaluation becomes more meaningful, the more flexible and informed donors are of the contextual realities in which organisations work. The more rigid they are, the more Evaluation is rendered onerous and unhelpful.
It takes time for an organisation to find its way into evaluation; and for evaluation to find its way into organisational functioning. This involves overcoming resistance, seeking best approaches, trial and error, staff training and exposure and eventual ‘absorption’ of the practices as part of ordinary functioning.
Though this concludes the weekly blog series based on the ECD Global Scan stories, there are many more blogs and series to come. Michele will be blogging about the AfrEA conference that begins today. Stay tuned!
Karen and Michele