Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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Introducing Transformative Evaluation Capacity Development (T-ECD)

Author, Copyright Holder: 
Michele Tarsilla

How can we alter the status quo on evaluation capacity development? In this blog Dr. Michele Tarsilla of the Evaluation Capacity Development Group builds on his recent article in the African Evaluation Journal (to read the full article, please click here ) and presents the DME for Peace community with Transformative Evaluation Capacity Development (T-ECD), a strategy "more genuinely geared towards the fulfillment of the organization’s internal information needs and social aspirations, consistent with the staff interests and organizational vision."

How many times have you heard international development practitioners and consultants telling their in-country partners and clients “We are here to help you”? Within the evaluation community, “helping others” often translates into the top-down provision of evaluation frameworks and comprehensive lists of “smart” indicators (usually developed at funders’ headquarters) to local grantee organizations and/or national ministries. 

I find it hard to believe that in 2015 the widely celebrated principles of country ownership, horizontal collaboration and institutional strengthening (do the Paris, Accra and Busan Declarations ring a bell?) still remain “nice” inspirational principles but rarely influence de facto the way funding decisions are made and evaluations are planned and conducted in the international development arena. The fierce promotion of internal technical expertise and jargon (e.g., which entitles many agencies to consider themselves knowledge banks vis-à-vis their member states and/or grantee organizations), carrying the clout of large financial resources, maintain the power dynamics inherent to the “global aid architecture”. As a result of such status quo, the agencies and institutions who have been crafting M&E approaches and tools over the last two decades dominate the knowledge production in the evaluation and project management arena around the world.

The inequities of international development processes have also affected the way Evaluation Capacity Building (ECB) strategies are developed and implemented. As attested by my recent review of ECB practices among 21 of the largest funders of development initiatives in Africa, a democratic and fair dialogue among countries on what type of evaluation capacity is really needed and how to contribute to its development at best is still missing.

While I encourage you to read the related African Evaluation Journal article for a more exhaustive understanding of the fallacies of the current global ECB architecture, below are four of the Review’s main conclusions and one key final recommendation which I will expand on further during my M&E Thursday Talk Webinar on February 19 (click here to register!).

Four Main Conclusions

1) A clear systemic vision for Evaluation Capacity Development (ECD) in Africa is still missing and most related programming across the continent has been characterized by ad hoc tactics rather than strategies.

2) ECD has not been considered a programmatic area in and of itself but an add-on activity by most international funders of development programs in Africa. This resulted in the unavailability of dedicated budgets for ECD which not only hampers the tracking of the corresponding activities but it also lowers the related accountability and efficiency.

3) International ECD funders are currently oscillating between supporting short-term evaluation training initiatives – despite acknowledging the limitations– and endorsing global flagship evaluation initiatives. However, two possible risks are associated with such global endeavors. Firstly, the standardization and reduction of ECD approaches due to the mobilization of vast financial and intellectual resources to two or three large international initiatives only. Secondly, the risk of low innovation in the ECD field due to the crowding out of smaller ECD organizations due to their limited funding,

4) ECD targeting has been quite erratic at the national level, with the exception of a few organizations whose ECD targeting strategy is not centered around the concepts of either evaluation demand or supply but rather of field- building.

Key Recommendation

A shift from functional evaluation capacity development to transformative evaluation capacity development in Africa is needed. The tendency of international ECD initiatives in Africa to emphasize the principles of teaching and accountability – referred to as ‘functional ECB’ (Tarsilla 2014a) – over those of learning and social transformation has gradually become the norm. This is also confirmed by the fact that the content of ECD initiatives implemented in Africa is developed outside of Africa. As the ECD Locus of Production (Tarsilla 2014b) matters, this needs to change. However, if no mitigation strategy is implemented, the current ECD programs will continue on as donor-centric, injecting external knowledge into the circles of evaluation networks in Africa and discouraging the production of authentic African knowledge. In particular, what seems to be missing across many of the current ECD initiatives implemented in Africa is an in-depth knowledge of and tools used in other countries.

The conversations and presentations on “made-in-Africa” evaluation approaches held during the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) conference (March 2014) represent an important milestone in pan-African knowledge-building effort for evaluation. Transformative ECD or T-ECD (Tarsilla 2014a) sets itself apart from strategies as it does not exclusively cater to funders’ decision-making but is instead more genuinely geared towards the fulfillment of the organization’s internal information needs and social aspirations, consistent with the staff interests and organizational vision. Transformative ECD is longer in duration than past ECD efforts as it is aimed at both sustainability and empowerment (at the individual, organizational and systemic levels).

Characterized by diffused championing and resulting from the harmonization of efforts amongst ECD funders, transformative evaluation is not a merely technical endeavor aimed at the delivery of products (e.g. training initiatives facilitating the transfer of technical knowledge and skills). Transformative ECD is adaptive and goal oriented and therefore not fully consistent with the currently common practice of using linear planning (e.g. logic models) in international development. Whilst some critics might label this emerging approach as being too costly or idealistic, the current effort to provide a global platform for exchanging on ECD might enhance the conversation around it amongst the large public and, therefore, make it more grounded and logistically feasible.

For more details on some of the concepts mentioned in today’s blog, please consult some of my work posted on the Evaluation Capacity Development Group website (


Dr. Michele Tarsilla is a field person at heart with a good understanding of HQ processes, Michele has worked: Designing performance and impact evaluation strategies at the World Bank; Setting up a M&E system for a youth empowerment project implemented in a refugee camp in Northwestern Kenya; and Evaluating the performance and efficiency of a "Culture and Development" program aimed at rehabilitating street children living in a marginalized neighborhood of Kinshasa through the use of arts.