Elements of a successful evaluation capacity building intervention in Africa: A landscape of participant’s perceptions

2020-01-20 blog clear-aa evidence-informed decision-making informs learns
Elements of a successful evaluation capacity building intervention in Africa: A landscape of participant’s perceptions

Introduction

The last decade has witnessed the growth in accountability, by donors who demand to know how their funds are utilized, and by the citizenry, who increasingly expect governments to be accountable. This has led to an increase in the demand and use of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), specifically, in the demand of employees with skills in M&E.

Expertise in M&E increases programmes/project delivery, impact, results and sustainability. Continentally, the growth of results-oriented development programs, has witnessed the mushrooming of M&E trainings. Despite the boom in M&E trainings offered both onsite and off-site, limited research has been undertaken to solicit participant’s perceptions of what works in M&E training programmes, to ensure they are fit for purpose.

This blog documents the perceptions of participants of the Development Training Programme in Africa (DETPA) cohort delivered by the Centre for Learning on Evaluation and Results (CLEAR-AA). Research questions were aimed at determining what worked, what did not work, what should be retained and what should not be retained in relation to the programme. A mixed method approach, entailing interviews and survey was used to solicit responses from participants from three cohorts (2017 to 2019). The following constructs were documented as findings.

Top class coordination process and organisational ownership

A well-thought implementation process and organizational ownership was demonstrated throughout the programme. For example, one respondent indicated that “the provision of the logistical note prior the commencement, and the coordination of the programme was well executed by the team. Another respondent corroborated the sentiment, stating that “I can't emphasise the importance of how organized the programme was. The support of the entire CLEAR-AA team work showed was a highlight. I was impressed!”.

Contextually-fitted curriculum content

A respondent noted that “the use of case studies, site visits, peer-learning and group works were some of the approaches that scaffolded her skills and knowledge. Another respondent similarly stated that “the Department of Evaluation and Monitoring (DPME) site visit was a highlight as it entrenched concepts discussed in the classroom with a practical National Evaluation System (NES). Notably, the 'Made in Africa Evaluation' module was highlighted as a key component of the programme.“This module gave an account of Africa’s evolution and how M&E fits in the broader development context” said one respondent. This is in line with DETPA's objective "to build a community of M&E professionals equipped with skills, knowledge and tools, which are fit-for-purpose to address local and global development challenges".

The quality of facilitators

The use of experts with technical expertise in various fields of M&E provided enriching theoretical and practical knowledge, enriching delivery. In this regard, a respondent asserted that “facilitators presented concepts in-depth and with relevant examples”. Another respondent noted that “dual facilitation in-sessions contributed to the success of the programme”."Such a mix approach responds to the needs of participants from diverse backgrounds and skills.

What was not successful about the programme

Consider using a pre-survey for preparation 

Some concepts such as systems thinking remain complex and difficult to decipher. One respondent recommended CLEAR-AA "consider conducting a pre-survey in order to gauge the level of participant’s understandings prior the commencement of the programme." This will ensure concepts pitched are at par with participant’s levels of understanding, expectations, and are tailored to cater for diverse contexts.

Make sure there is sufficient time

The programme duration was considered short. One respondent highlighted that “lots of theories were covered with limited time for their application” Another participant mentioned "there were time constraints witnessed during the site visit”- caused by traffic delays between Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Standardize the facilitation style

A minority of facilitators had poor facilitation skills. For example, “a facilitator was perceived to have used traditional teaching style to lecturer”. It was recommended that “CLEAR-AA standardize the facilitation style "to curb such minor occurrences.

Kindly enlist what should be retained about the programme

Curriculum and learning approach

Most respondents consented that the curriculum and learning approach should be retained. A participant mentioned that “Learning how to package the evaluation reports especially how to report to various stakeholders, steps on how to commission evaluation and the decolonization seminar were useful and should be retained. These assist practitioners adapt existing concepts and frameworks as well as empower them to navigate their practices. Additionally, the DPME site visit was instrumental in illustrating how a complex an M&E system works”.

Two different streams/tracks

The two streams offered by the programme should be retained. To emphasis this, one respondent noted that “I like the fact that there are two streams. One that focuses on theoretical concepts whilst another pays attention to technical approaches”. Another responded noted that "the two tracks (fundamentals and advanced) approach, catering for new entrants and experienced practitioners was a highlight for me". "This ensured that modules were appropriately sequenced and fit for purpose".

Kindly enlist what should not be retained about the programme

Mixed reactions

Although most respondents agreed that all components should be retained, a few noted that "the programme was content heavy. A multiplicity of events i.e., lunchtime lectures, evening and weekend activities etc., were overwhelming, providing limited time for processing contents taught. It was thus recommended that CLEAR-AA extend the programme duration and explore the use social activities after class so that participants connect in a relaxed mode outside the formalities.

Although the findings of this study cannot be generalized, there are few conclusions that could be inferred. First, the responses reinforce the importance of M&E, and the urgency to customize training initiatives, synchronizing them with the skills needs of African practitioners. Secondly, suppliers of training need to be cognizant of the context in which they are operating in. Lastly, the key conclusion drawn from this blog is that the continent requires more skilled personnel trained in M&E in order to track implementation and outputs systematically, and measure the effectiveness of programmes. Therefore, it remains important that training programmes provided are fit for purpose and contextually relevant.