By: Mokgophana Ramasobana and Nozipho Ngwabi
The blog titled “Made in Africa Evaluation: Africa’s novel approach towards its developmental paths (Part 1) provided an historical overview on some of the initiatives proposed to pioneer the MAE concept by various African scholars and evaluation practitioners. These include Prof. Zenda Ofir, Prof. Bagele Chilisa, Dr. Sukai Prom Jackson and Dr. Sully Gariba just to name a few. As a follow-up, Part 2 of the blog aims to explore some of the factors that influence maturity of the MAE concept beyond rhetoric and into practice, and raises a question around its uptake within the broader evaluation discourse.
The seed to collaborate on writing this blog between Nozipho and I has been forthcoming with a sense of speed. There are two cyclical international events that provoked our thinking as well as expedited the opportunity to co-write this blog. Firstly, a seminar titled “Decolonising the Evaluation Curriculum” hosted by CLEAR-AA during the delivery of the Development Evaluation Training Programme in Africa (DETPA). The panellists of the seminar comprised national and international evaluation experts: Prof. Bagele Chilisa (University of Botswana), Dr. Nombeko Mbava (University of Cape Town), Dr. Kambidima Wotela (University of Witwatersrand), Ms. Adeline Sibanda (AfrEA President) and Ms. Candice Morkel (CLEAR-AA) as the moderator. The second was a panel discussion titled “There is no Resilience without Equity: When will our Profession Finally Act to Reverse Asymmetries in Global Evaluation?” Chaired by Ms. Adeline Sibanda (AfrEA President) at the 13th European Evaluation Society (EES) Biennial Conference. Both events were characterised by heated debates among the panellists and participants and in this blog, Nozipho and I identified four key themes, which emerged as common threads. These four themes inhibit the deepening of the discourse around MAE, both conceptually and in practice. They include, (i) over-reliance on western worldviews or paradigms (ii) dominance of donors as commissioners of African evaluations (iii) Supply-chain Practices Crowd out African Evaluators and (iv) Perceived infancy of the evaluation profession in Africa.
(i) Worldviews or paradigms
The colonisation of African people in the 19th century had dire consequences of desecrating their traditional knowledge systems, cultural practices, values and beliefs (Kaya and Seleti, 2013). Scholars argue that Eurocentric or western worldviews of “knowledge” are yet to appreciate alternative non-western ways of knowing and producing knowledge. Consequently, the lack of this appreciation means that in the historical account of African or indigenous knowledge systems are less documented and evidenced in the broader academic discourses (ibid.). Likewise the evaluation profession is not immune from this influence of western paradigms. Thus, the theories informing evaluation practice in Africa are dominated by Western paradigms (Cloete, 2016).
Various African scholars (Chilisa, 2012); (Chilisa and Tsheko, 2017); (Shiza, 2013),and (Ofir, 2018) have impressively embarked on numerous initiatives, aimed at championing indigenous or localised African knowledge systems in the evaluation sector. These initiatives are geared to ensure that Afrocentric approaches, inter alia, methodologies, ways of knowing and philosophies are embedded into the evaluation praxis. Some of the studies elevating the Afrocentric paradigms include: indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) (Keane, 2008); (Geber and Keane, 2013); (Keane, Khupe, and Seehawe, 2017) and (Khupe and Keane, 2017) decolonisation and indigenisation of evaluation (le Grange, 2016) and (Chilisa, Major, Gaotlhobogwe and Mokgolodi, 2016) MAE or African-led or African and African “rooted” evaluations (Cloete, Rabie and de Coning, 2014; Chilisa , 2017 and Ofir, 2018) . These authors acknowledge that African voices and their ways of knowing should be integrated into a discourse of development. In spite of these commendable cited initiatives, African knowledge systems and paradigms remain insufficiently used, specifically in evaluation practice on the continent. We have to ask ourselves why this is the case.
To avoid the risk of providing a simplistic solution to a complex phenomenon, we recommend that opportunities should be created for collaboration between young and experienced African scholars to proactively pursue a research agenda around MAE and the translation of the findings into evaluation practice. However, this issue requires deeper conversations within the evaluation community around ways in which this shift in approach can be attained.
(ii) Dominance of donors as commissioners of African evaluations
Accountability for financial investments injected in Africa by donor communities elevated the demand for evaluation and has played a significant role in the institutionalisation of evaluation practices (Tirivanhu, Robertson, Waller and Chirau, 2018). This is corroborated by the African Evaluation Database (AfrED) database report (2017) commissioned by CLEAR-AA in collaboration with CREST for the period 2005-2015, which illustrates that: donors commissioned 69% of the evaluations, followed by a 31% split between NGO’s and governments. Notably, non-African evaluators in these reports have been appointed as project leads responsible for technical and strategic activities during the implementation of evaluation assignments whilst on the other hand, African experts are dispensed with supporting activities entailing administrative and logistical duties (Mouton and Wildschut, 2017). These disparities in roles and authority in evaluation assignments to some extent validate the widely held view that African scholars are less skilled to execute credible evaluations (Tirivanhu, Robertson, Waller and Chirau, 2018, p 230). Once again, a trite solution cannot be suggested for such a complex problem, but commissioners of evaluations (particularly donors) could consider revising procurement regulations geared to facilitate equivalent shared responsibilities between African and Western experts. In addition to capacity building initiatives that are focused on building African expertise in evaluation practice, it is time to also look at the legal-technical and administrative levers (such as procurement) that could provide a catalyst to changing the landscape of existing patterns of supply and demand on the continent.
(iii) Supply-chain Practices Crowd out African Evaluators
Building on the second theme, the evaluation field in Africa is historically and currently dominated by the Global North. (Cloete, 2016, p. 55) states that, “Evaluations in Africa are still largely commissioned by non-African stakeholders who mostly comprise international donor or development agencies that run or fund development programmes on the continent”. In addition, the current supply chain frameworks insist that evaluation expertise should be sourced from the development agencies’ countries of origin. This observation coincides with Phillips’s (2018) findings on a study of four major donors who commission evaluations in South Africa. The author found that the majority of international donor evaluation contracts in South Africa are obtained by international companies, who often sub-contract local expertise to enable them to understand the local context. This means that the evaluation criteria, methods and approaches are designed from a Global North orientation and that minimal effort is made to contextualise or ‘indigenise’ evaluations.
This situation raises concerns around the cultural competency of evaluators to conduct evaluations in African contexts, particularly if they are led by donor/development organisations who do not recognise the importance of this aspect of evaluation practice (AEA, 2011; Hopson, 2003 and Rebien, 1997). We acknowledge that more work needs to be done in developing a body of knowledge of Afrocentric paradigms, ways of knowing and methodologies in conducting and commissioning evaluations in Africa. Once this is available, a rich database of African methods could be made available globally. This will contribute towards the incremental documentation of Africa’s ways of knowing and elevating the indigenisation of evaluation practice as well as the prominence of African knowledge systems.
(iv) Perceived infancy of the evaluation profession in Africa
The slow progress of professionalisation of the evaluation discipline is common globally, as only a few countries have formally professionalised evaluation (Podems, 2015). M&E has not been professionalised in any of the African countries and this may be one of the main gaps in the slow progress of the Made in Africa concept. It is only in fairly recent years that monitoring and evaluation capacity building programmes such as the CLEAR Initiative, the International Programme on Development Evaluation Training (IPDET), trainings offered by Voluntary Organisations for Professional Evaluation (VOPEs) such as the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) and the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA), as well as universities have been developed to contribute to the growth of evaluation in Africa (Stockdill, Baizerman and Compton, 2002; Stewart, 2015; Denney and Mallett, 2017).
Scholars generally concur with sentiments that professionalising evaluation should be a priority (Montrosse –Moorhead and Griffith (2017), Podems and Cloete (2014) and Lavelle (2014). The idea of professionalisation appeals to those looking to improve quality control for the practice of evaluation, to address the problem of the lack of uniformity in the field and the roles of evaluation practitioners. Thus, without the standardisation of evaluator competencies on the continent (or one could argue globally) it is difficult to fit the ‘Made in Africa’ concept into the several other issues of standardisation we already have.
In summary, addressing the four constraints highlighted above to bring to maturity the MAE concept requires greater cohesion and more intensive championing amongst practitioners and scholars. As a way forward, it is proposed that a few disruptions are introduced into the system to stimulate change into the well-entrenched patterns of evaluation practice in Africa. These include: the intensification of research between experienced and young African scholars to establish a body of knowledge for MAE; adjustments to procurement practices, which could for example include a compulsory split between African and Western experts with equal shared responsibilities in evaluation assignments; need to commission and conduct inter-disciplinary evaluations and an expedited momentum towards the professionalisation of the evaluation practice in Africa.