When I was young, my family occasionally took long road trips during the summer holidays. Sitting in the back of a station wagon, my mother passed out books of connect the dot activities to keep my siblings and me occupied. If you’re unfamiliar with these games, they are composed of partially discernable images that require one to connect the numbered dots in order to complete the scene. Complex puzzles begin with a few lines and lots of numbered dots, thus requiring more work to reveal the image.
As I listen to discussions about evaluation in complex organizations, it reminds me of the connect the dot puzzles I worked on during those hot, July afternoons. Evaluation is often discussed in terms of activities – evaluating projects and programmes. However, there is frequently a disconnect between the evaluation results and policy decisions.
Disconnects can be found between demands for comprehensive evaluations and budgets that support the time required to do the work. Disconnects are found between required evaluation expertise and professional development opportunities to fill gaps. And sometimes connections are missing between those conducting evaluations and those who have the inside knowledge and understanding of the project or programme being evaluated.
Taking a systemic approach to evaluation is critical for capacity development to be realized. Like complex puzzles that begin with a few lines and lots of numbered dots, evaluation in complex organizations requires more work to be able to connect all the dots and reveal the hidden image.