Welcome to week #2 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:
(Posted by Karen Russon, ECDG President)
As shown in our website, ECDG’s work rests on a solid principle: moving evaluation from an activity to a system. Needless to say, this is easier said than done. Promoting ECD with a systemic or holistic lens is a challenging endeavor. In effect, it might feel like pushing a heavy car up a hill. Do we ever reach the top? Nonetheless, with such a metaphor in mind, those of you who just started working on ECD might wonder how you start pushing the car in the first place (that is, how you set the whole ECD process in motion) and how you do so without major injury (that is, how you maintain the momentum of your ECD program over time). Interesting question indeed but one that we cannot address unless we first identify those who stand behind, and whose contribution is indispensable to, that very same ECD initiative: its leader(s).
As we discovered from the contributions of the organizations that participated in our ECD Global Scan, leadership in an effective ECD initiative requires multiple actors, including champions and critical friends (a future blog will be dedicated to these two specific functions). For today, we will focus on the multi-faceted theme of institutional leadership: traditionally emanating from governance and the executive or management level. We have also included a fascinating story involving nontraditional leadership.
According to John C. Maxwell, the author of the book entitled The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: “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.
50 Different Shades of ECD Leadership
Any humorous reference to the popular book aside, ECD leaders take many forms depending on the setting in which we find evaluation taking place – from management or governance officials within an organization, to prominent political figures or civic leaders within a broader society. Without trusted leaders in a position of authority who have a vested interest in evaluation and a commitment to it, ECD risks becoming a short-lived exercise (does lack of sustainability ring a bell?). Similarly, absent an ECD leader, no ECD strategy may ever get off the ground to begin with.
For many or perhaps most of us, we look at leadership through Western eyes where decisions are made and policies are decided by those leaders who sit in the corner office at the top of a hierarchical organizational chart. A system’s perspective of ECD opens up the possibility of the leadership role to take place in a nontraditional setting outside that corner office. One of the ECD stories covered by our Global Scan is a good illustration of that. Taking place in Alaska and illustrating how ECD leadership could occur within a broader social context, this first story features the involvement of Native Elders.
ECD in an Indigenous Society – Involving Elder Leadership
A year ago, I decided to get in touch with the authors of the article, “It Is Only New Because It Has Been Missing for so Long: Indigenous Evaluation Capacity Building”, published in the American Journal of Evaluation December 2012 issue. Thanks to my correspondence with one of the authors (Dr. Sandy Kerr), I was able to gain insightful into aspects of the planning and implementation of this ECD initiative. While the details of the underlying dynamic partnerships will be discussed in a future blog, we would like to highlight for now the intentional effort to obtain the tribal leadership buy-in into the ECD program underway, a different action from what one would expect in a more Westernized cultural setting. Such leadership was critical for the sustainable development of evaluation in Alaska. It was expressed not only through the Elders’s consent to have ECD activities implemented in their respective communities but also through their direct participated in some of the corresponding training activities.
Through our correspondence with Dr. Sandy Kerr (currently the Director or a consulting firm in in Northland, New Zealand) who worked diligently over several years on this ECD effort, we at ECDG learned something else. As Dr. Kerr put it: “It is important for an indigenous undertaking [to prosper] that the whole of the capacity building venture has been supported by native elders…On our first visit, [a particular elder] welcomed us and gave us permission to be there and to speak on his land; he was at each workshop; and the Indigenous Evaluation Gathering was held at his home which is also a culture camp.”
Key leaders may spearhead ECD; they may ‘buy into’ the idea. Whatever the motivation, those in a more traditional management or administrative role will most likely have a full plate already – managing, fund-raising, negotiating, budgeting, organizing, partnering – you get the idea. What can we do to help them with this additional responsibility?
The Global Scan led us to the Community Development Resource Association (CDRA), a civil society organization based in Capetown, South Africa, which developed a program involving action learning where they (CDRA staff) and NGO leaders involved would actively learn together how to navigate ECD responsibilities. We’ve included a wonderful experiential piece that was written by a CDRA staff member in the Useful Resources section below.
Holding The Space For Mutual Learning Among Organizational Leaders: An Action Learning Initiative
CDRA is currently halfway through this 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.
Here’s what caught our attention. This is not just evaluation training. CDRA shared a programme rationale document that noted, “The learning events were conceived of as a creative and generative space with an opportunity for [the leadership of] each participating organization to develop unique systems and approaches, based on its own work, needs and existing organizational practices. Holding strategic work at the centre. The connection is made to work in the world, and the organisation’s abilities to track this, to incorporate it into strategic learning and to ensure that the mission of the organisation remains centre stage.” This includes peer-to-peer learning and as well as one-to-one consultancy (a critical friend activity to be discussed in a future blog). We asked our colleagues at CDRA to reflect on lessons learned at this mid-point in their program. Below are some direct quotes from their response:
“The reflective/action learning is really wonderful and HUGELY appreciated by those participants who are especially involved in devising their own M&E. For those on the edge (meaning rather more compliance-focused than strategic learning), they are also stimulating, but we are not sure of uptake.”
“Everyone likes/needs/appreciates cutting edge input. There is so much info out there – these programmes need to play a synthesising function … so real room for conventional input/teaching.”
“For some organisations, the idea of being able to access theory (evaluation) to both strengthen and build an argument in the formulation of own theory of change and relevant M&E system was an empowering experience.”
“One of the most innovative learning strategies is to give people time to read and focus and reflect. [This] counters distraction and fragmentation … i.e. simply holding the space for a specific task (group meeting as a whole, and even more specific within that) is of HUGE value.”
In a nutshell, CDRA created the space for cooperative learning – a gathering of leaders from distinct organizations who could benefit from each other’s unique experiences and thereby enhance their own ECD efforts. Below is case study research, and an actual case, where cooperative learning is enriched by collective leadership of the evaluation function.
Several years ago, faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), an international, nonprofit educational institution in Greensboro, North Carolina, US, undertook a case study research project to better understand ‘interdependent’ leadership in organizations. Leadership was considered to be a social process producing direction, alignment, and commitment in collectives with shared work (e.g., workgroups, teams, organizations and communities). Their assumption was that “for organizations to deal effectively with increasing complexity in their environments, new approaches to leadership [were] needed—approaches that are themselves more complex than current approaches.” The study, noted in Useful Resources, entitled Interdependent Leadership In Organizations: Evidence From Six Case Studies, identified 10 categories of interdependent leadership cultures and practices.
One leadership category identified organizations that were “intentionally engaged in change and adaptation in relation to the larger system of which it is a part”. According to the study, for the organizations with the characteristics of this category, “Experimentation with new approaches is encouraged in all parts of the system with the expectation that learning will be broadly shared throughout the system. Organizational roles are flexible and evolve as needed in the larger system. Individuals and the collective are experienced as linked in mutual development. Learning is focused on producing collective competence and system effectiveness.”
To be intentionally engaged in change is quite critical from an ECD standpoint. This broadly shared learning throughout the system is focused on producing collective competence and system effectiveness. It implies a lateral dimension to leadership in contrast to the traditional top-down approach adopted in older capacity building programs. Here is an example of lateral leadership from the Global Scan that illustrates the principle that broadly shared learning can ultimately lead to improved system-wide effectiveness.
Evaluation Capacity – Leadership Across Organizational Departments
A small organization can integrate learning activities in a more flexible, creative manner than its counterparts in a highly regulated institution 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. Through an interview with the theater’s department heads, we learned about an assortment of evaluative activities being conducted, some of which included staff: seeking informal feedback as patrons exit theater lobby; using evaluation data for marketing purposes; establishing a mechanism whereby staff and supervisors could evaluate each other in a respectful, constructive manner; regularly evaluating the quality of vendors and software; assessing the level of satisfaction among volunteers and interns; conducting cost-benefit analysis; and evaluating stage managers and guest directors’ performances. So many useful ways to put evaluation to work!
This range of evaluation activities was enhanced when the executive director involved all her departmental managers in evaluative activities. She helped to create an institutional culture of learning by encouraging the use of evaluation as a positive tool for improvement. Trusted leadership and dedicated staff makes for a well-functioning system, and in this case, a Midwest community theater. The link to the case study including the full gamut of evaluative activities is the “Useful Resources” section below.
In his article “Definition and Theories of Leadership” recently published in the Journal of Management Research, Dr. Ekramul Hoque notes that “leadership presence is that certain ‘something’ that commands attention, inspires people, wins their trust and makes followers want to work with them.” Strong leadership has also traditionally been cited as a critical component of any successful ECD effort. After all, ECD is a long-term endeavor entailing the participation of many actors at different levels and, as such, it requires a firm and stable stewardship of that vision.
I witnessed the importance of this myself. After 20 hours of travel, my husband and I arrived in SW Michigan for a winter holiday on a snowy December evening. We had to ascend a slippery, dark private road to reach our rental cottage. We had heavy bags in the trunk and front-wheel drive. After 4-5 attempts to make it up the hill, we realized it wasn’t going to happen. I decided to get out and push. As my husband got a running start, I waited by the side of the road, just before a sharp curve. Hoping not to get run over, I reached out and pushed the corner back fender as he slid by. I didn’t know how I would push that heavy car. Surprisingly, running along and applying light pressure to the corner bumper with one hand was all it took. It may not require a Herculean effort to move a car up a slippery hill. Sometimes, it is simply constant pressure at the right place at the right time – along with the desire to make it to the top. It may be so for an ECD effort as well.
Strategies to Enhance ECD Leadership
Anderson, C. et. al. (2012). It Is Only New Because It Has Been Missing for so Long: Indigenous Evaluation Capacity Building in American Journal of Evaluation (33,4) http://aje.sagepub.com/content/33/4/566.full
Case Study of the Kalamazoo Civic Theater
Community Development Resource Center (CDRA) The Developing Organizational Capacity for M&E programme http://www.cdra.org.za/images/docs/me.pdf
Hoque, E. (2013). Anything you ever wanted to know about leadership – Definition and Theories of Leadership in Journal of Management Research (1,1) Retrieved Jan 7, 2014 from: http://ssresearcher.com/journals/pdf/22_2.pdf
McCauley Cynthia D, et al (2008). Interdependent Leadership In Organizations: Evidence From Six Case Studies. Retrieved Jan 13, 2014 from: http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/interdependentLeadership.pdf
Principles for Evaluation Capacity Development http://www.ecdg.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Principles-for-Evaluation-Capacity-Development.pdf
Soal, Sue (2013). Community Development Resource Center (CDRA) On the politics of evidence: seeking philosophical counseling. Retrieved Jan 17, 2014 from: http://www.ecdg.net/2014/01/17/on-the-politics-of-evidence-seeking-philosophical-counselling/
ECDG Note: As we remain committed to promoting ECD globally, we look forward to learning more about your ECD experiences. Therefore, please do not hesitate to contact us at the following e-mail addresses if you have any questions or comments:
Karen Russon (ECDG President):firstname.lastname@example.org
Michele Tarsilla (ECDG Vice-President):email@example.com