Evaluation is important for our continent. Many things prompted me to take an interest in a career in evaluation. After my university studies, I enjoyed being involved in project and program management. This experience showed me that projects are frequently undertaken without any study that clearly indicates their relevance to people’s wellbeing. Evaluation can address this – one of its many benefits.
Evaluation highlights ways to improve the relevance and effectiveness of the project or program. It allows the initiator of an action to understand the challenges and constraints faced during implementation. At mid-term, evaluation helps to redirect activities to achieve the expected results. It helps us to understand successes and failures experienced during the implementation, and to use these lessons in the next steps that have to be taken. It helps us to define pathways to sustainability so that the intended beneficiaries can continue to benefit even after the project or activity has come to an end.
Evaluation for Africa
I continue to be interested in evaluation because my experience on the ground showed me that it is essential to be able to assess actions at household as well as organisational, community and country level. Evaluation is important for good strategic planning, and for understanding what happens at household level.
This is exceptionally important in Africa.
The household (or ‘community’, or ‘local’) level is where we have to identify needs, and in the light of these, assess the relevance as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each of the actions taken. We need to understand which groups will benefit directly and indirectly, assess both the positive and unexpected negative impacts, and identify alternative actions that can be taken to avoid the negative impacts.
I have learned many things from my experience in working at this level. In Burundi, as in many other African countries, governments and organisations implementing interventions often do not meet the most important needs of the population. The evaluation work I have done has shown that initiatives adopted in one locality may be unsuitable in another. Projects or programs cannot be blindly transferred to other contexts. Evaluation needs to highlight when, where, for whom and why to intervene in a way that is truly relevant to the people in a particular locality.
I am grateful that evaluation has met my expectations. I have learned new skills through my evaluation work with communities, and have developed a new appreciation of their realities.
Evaluation capacity for Africa
Evaluation capacity in Africa depends on the context, nature and location of the country. In West Africa, evaluation practices are advancing, but in most of sub-Saharan Africa, including in Burundi, foreign or expatriate rather than indigenous evaluators are seen as the best practitioners. So, in Africa, the profession of evaluation still has to demonstrate that it is developing well.
Evaluation capacity needs to be developed for Africa because most interventions are still not carried out based on sound preliminary studies that show the need for the intervention, and they do not articulate targets and results that are truly relevant to such needs, and to the nature of the intervention.
Evaluation capacity in Africa is also important for financial reasons. We need national evaluation specialists to bring the costs down; international consultants are much more expensive than local evaluators.
This is why we need evaluation capacities in Africa in general, and especially in Burundi. Yet the greatest challenge we currently encounter is the lack of opportunities for emerging African evaluators to improve their evaluation skills. This has to change.