A Journey to Shape CLEAR-LAC's Future

Cristian Crespo
18 December 2023
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Group stands around EVALAC logo sculpture for photo.
Cristian Crespo, future Executive Director of CLEAR-LAC, reflects on what he and his team learned on a recent trip around the LAC region. To shape the work of the new CLEAR-LAC, they explored the opportunities and challenges for strengthening M&E systems and the use of evidence for policymaking, both in specific countries and with regard to the whole LAC region. CLEAR-LAC will resume its operations in 2024 with a new host institution, Universidad Católica de Chile.

Cristian Crespo is the future Executive Director of the Center for Learning on Evaluation and Results for Latin America and the Caribbean (CLEAR-LAC), which will begin operating in 2024, and is the Director of the Applied Research Area at Universidad Católica´s Center of Public Policy in Chile. He has experience building monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems at the subnational and national levels in Chile, conducting evaluations and teaching about M&E. He is also an enthusiastic traveler - always open to a new adventure.

 

Imagine you are starting a two-month trip to Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Your excitement is palpable as a journey to LAC is a sensory delight, where the vibrant rhythm of life intertwines with the rich tapestry of diverse cultures. From the Andes mountains to the lush rainforests of the Amazon to the sun-kissed beaches of the Caribbean, each destination offers a kaleidoscope of flavors, colors, and traditions.

Any trip also represents an opportunity to make new friends, gain knowledge and share experiences. In October and November 2023, my team and I embarked on our own trip of this kind to facilitate shaping the future work of the CLEAR-LAC, which will resume its operations in 2024, and will be hosted by the Universidad Católica de Chile.

Our trip started with over twenty interviews with specialists working to strengthen M&E systems in multiple LAC countries. It finished with a week in Panama, where M&E-related organizations and LAC M&E specialists convened at EVALAC, a training initiative organized by the InterAmerican Development Bank´s Office of Oversight and Evaluation (OVE-IADB). We gained valuable insights about opportunities and challenges for strengthening M&E systems and the use of evidence for policymaking, both in specific countries and with regard to the whole region. I’d like to share with you my reflections from the trip.

For CLEAR-LAC´s new journey in 2024, traveling with partners is better than going solo: Multiple organizations have conducted M&E strengthening efforts in LAC, such as OVE-IADB, the German Institute for Development Evaluation, the World Food Programme and the UNDP’s Independent Evaluation Office. They have run diagnostics, identified champions, trained professionals, and strengthened country networks. However, conversations with M&E partners showed that multiple needs still exist, and that collaboration is feasible and desirable. Working together represents an opportunity to increase efficiency and maximize everyone’s impact. Hence, our journey in strengthening M&E systems and the use of evidence in LAC countries will start with key partnerships.

There is a strong interest in learning about M&E, but in some countries, there is a lack of formal academic programs addressing this need: During our trip, we observed a clear demand from M&E specialists to enhance their capacities. They are eager to acquire new skills and apply them in their work. While engaging with various M&E training providers in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), we identified the existing options and acknowledged their efforts. However, discussions with local specialists revealed a noticeable gap in formal academic offerings for M&E programs across multiple LAC countries. Although this gap is not uniform across the entire region, we discovered instances in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. In the context of CLEAR-LAC's new journey, our goal is to address this gap by offering high-quality general and specialized training that leads to formal academic degrees. We aim to integrate local knowledge and context into the curriculum to better serve the needs of M&E professionals in the region.

M&E knowledge exchange is highly valued but challenging to operationalize: National M&E institutions recognize the importance of learning from other countries that have successfully addressed challenges similar to their own. Mexico and Colombia, known for their successful efforts in strengthening M&E systems, are often cited as examples that these institutions are eager to draw lessons from. However, these institutions also acknowledge that creating opportunities where experiences and knowledge can be exchanged can be challenging.  Connections between national M&E institutions don’t always exist and relationships take time to establish. For CLEAR-LAC's new journey, the facilitation of regional knowledge exchange will be a crucial focus.

M&E strengthening efforts are particularly needed for issues related to violence, crime and gender: While our trip provided insights into notable M&E system strengthening initiatives in many areas such as education and health, key stakeholders identified critical gaps, particularly in areas related to gender, crime, and violence, as well as the intersection of these issues. During our trip, we engaged with M&E regional and international counterparts, such as UN Women and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. They recognize the power of increased collaboration to strengthen M&E systems to increase gender equality and reduce violence and crime. Looking ahead, as part of our ongoing collaboration with partners in these areas, we are in the process of designing a joint roadmap for our future journey to enhance coordination and cooperation.

As we finish setting up CLEAR-LAC and prepare to launch our new journey, it is inevitable to reflect on its relevance. Strengthening M&E systems to help governments gather and use evidence for effective policymaking remains essential. Doing so in coordination with key regional partners, with the support of the Global Evaluation Initiative and its international network of partners and experts, is the most effective approach to maximize impact. As well, Universidad Católica’s distinct and thriving environment offers a unique platform from which to propel CLEAR-LAC. There are three distinguished centers at the university - the Center of Public Policy, J-PAL LAC and MIDE-UC - that will support CLEAR-LAC.  Additionally, a diversity of schools and faculty members and the University´s established networks will facilitate carrying out the work of CLEAR-LAC throughout the entire region.

2024 is just around the corner. CLEAR-LAC´s new voyage for strengthening M&E systems will begin with nurturing partnerships, training a cadre of evaluators, facilitating the exchange of M&E knowledge and advancing evidence use around crucial issues such as violence and gender. We are excited and getting ready for our departure. Come and join us on this adventure!