Evaluation: do you recommend it? Model it? Breathe it?
Erika Smith, from APC’s women’s programme, blogged live from the Gender Evaluation Methodology (APC Annual Report 2006 ">GEM) global trainers exchange, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 23-27 July 2007.
Hmm, these participatory exercises are always fun to see the competitive nature of participants. Watch out! The debate is on! Which side will win? "Monitoring and evaluation should take up at least 20% of your organisational time." Sharing yet another practical exercise, Toni got participants debating on evaluation practice, and those who live and breathe evaluation quickly emerged. "It's impossible to put a percentage on it. Everything I do I evaluate, 20% is too limiting" said one. Another disputed when you are trying to convince people to evaluate, there needs to be a ball park figure, a minimum idea of what is invested, without taking too much time away from other organisational work. It's impossible to separate it, others argued, it's intrinsic. Besides bantering view points on evaluation, participants walked through different debate-style exercises to evoke exchange, mutual learning and help facilitators know where to fill in gaps.
"How many people evaluate their workshops?" brought on a lively discussion that took us from simple methods to ethical questions involved in evaluating. Trainers shared tips on their practice - the use of questionnaires, eyes and ears checks, post-workshop interviews, examinining if the trainee's organisation has also been impacted by the training. The importance of participant confidence, comfortableness and need for anonymity emerged. Having outsiders, people who are unattached to the workshop or course experience as an authority figure, interview participants provides for more honest feedback, some felt. This way feedback is not tempered with concerns about getting invited back for the next training if they are too critical, or, worry that the trainer may lose their job.
Include the participants in designing evaluation methods, and especially, ensure that the feedback you receive affects the process. Participants have to know that what they say is being taken seriously. Creating a positive environment and attitude around evaluation is not automatic. Toni pointed out - "how many facilitators say "Don't worry, whatever you say I am going to 'take it' well." Regardless of who and how evaluation is conducted, there must be transparency, clarity that an evaluation is being conducted and what the purpose of evaluation is.
"As GEM facilitators, you can't just encourage evaluation. You have to model it." insisted Sarah Earl from IDRC, one of those folks who breathes evaluation. Whoa, practicing it, okay. But modelling it? I don't think I'm the only one who finds that a bit intimidating.