Foundation Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist, Asgar Bhikoo brings us into the world of Monitoring & Evaluation (“M&E”) through sharing his experience of attending the European Evaluation Society Conference in September 2014. He took an unusual approach to this learning and came to some surprising conclusions. He shares these insights as part of the Foundation’s continuing quest to answer the fundamental question: does the programme make a difference?
The conference focused on Evaluation for an Equitable Society: independence, partnership and participation. At this conference I decided to challenge myself to see things from an entrepreneurial perspective, similarly to how we challenge our Candidate Fellows. Doing this stimulated my thinking, and I felt like the only individual wearing 3D glasses in a 3D movie!
How, you may ask? I approached this conference by thinking about the Foundation’s values: Pursuing a Spirit of Significance, Pursuing Excellence, Practicing Stewardship, Living an Entrepreneurial Mindset and Taking a Long-Term approach. Using these filters challenged my own thinking, and allowed me to challenge experts in the field.
Doing this allowed me to redefine Evaluation as a profession for myself, and to also ask the question: what are people not seeing? The things I spotted were as follows:
Evaluation is a skill that everyone has. It forms part of a continuum that starts from creating something to assessing whether or not the thing you have created has any value. This is highly applicable to an entrepreneurship context. Entrepreneurs need to evaluate their ideas in order to be successful. My conclusion: there is an opportunity to be creative and not prescriptive in evaluation.
Some Evaluation methods have links to Market Research, Management Consulting, Organisational Development, Human Resources, Project Management, Psychology, Economics, Actuarial Science, Accounting along with communication skills. All these disciplines have connections to being an Entrepreneur. My conclusion: subjects in the Commercial and Social Sciences are interlinked, and therefore, thinking of social programmes as if it were a business will aid evaluators in framing questions differently for themselves, the sponsors of evaluation and those who the evaluation is intended to benefit.
Technology, communication and the world of research is changing. Faster reporting methods that get to the point and give a better understanding of how you relate to the rest of the world are needed to aid decision making. Who might naturally have these skills you may ask? An Entrepreneur of course! My conclusion: an entrepreneurial approach to collect, analyse and report data for the purpose of sound and rapid decision making is needed. Think just in time, every time, all the time. Out with lengthy reports, in with the one page A3 and dashboard. Better yet, combine your graphs, pictures and audio. Your audience is smart and intuitive, so they will know what to do with the information with which you provide them. This is especially applicable, for example, in conflict or disaster zones, where reporting could be the difference between life and death as humanitarian aid agencies need to deploy aid accurately, effectively and efficiently.
The conference also focused on creating an equitable society. This was familiar to me, as it relates to the concept of taking action that will benefit society which is at the core of the Foundation’s vision to foster entrepreneurship for the common good. 2015 has been declared the International Year of Evaluation, with the aim of creating an Equitable Society. M&E professionals globally are asking themselves, “Did I play my part in ensuring equality for all in the work I did?” This is a difficult question, which cuts down to your values as an individual. Michael Scriven (a leader in the field of Evaluation) challenged evaluators to think about this, and encouraged them to serve society with their unique expertise. My conclusion: Don’t step back from the challenge, get involved.
In conclusion, the conference allowed me to experience my profession in a similar manner to a Candidate Fellow experiencing the Fellowship Programme and thereby shifted my perspective. I have now redefined what I see and do in my profession. For me, Evaluation is the creation of social value through inclusive, collaborative and applied research.