The Vital Role of Evaluation in Shifting Power for Transformational Change – a perspective from the global South

Roundtable | Online

About the Event

Monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) in international development needs to be rethought and refreshed. The purpose of MEL, the key ideas that inform it, as well as the established systems, structure, and tools that operationalize it, merit examination in light of the current paradigm shift in international development focusing on localisation, decolonisation, equity and inclusion, and power shift.

Conventional MEL, as part of an international aid system, is primarily driven by the needs and interests of northern donors, policymakers, and INGOs, rather than those of local development actors and ultimate stakeholders. In short, an "external" or outward-facing lens influences learning priorities, indicators and measurement requirements, tools and techniques, accountability flows, reporting, and impact requirements. With a few exceptions, success as defined by the ultimate stakeholders, including markers and measures, key learning interests of local actors, and preferred methods of tapping into indigenous knowledge and voices to learn, reflect, and adjust, remains mostly on the margins.

Even within organizations (including those in the ‘global North’), the ability to adapt and adjust programming based on experience and evidence is limited, and decisions about improvement are reserved for senior decision-makers. As a result, frontline workers' ability to adapt and innovate for better outcomes is stifled, and local policymakers cannot drive their own policy agendas.

This bias or orientation is no longer useful. There is a call to "re-imagine" MEL and bring its transformative potential and promise to light. This was a key conclusion and rallying point for the European Evaluation Society Conference in Copenhagen in June 2022 and was a theme of the IDEAS conference and Global Assembly (September 2022). In addition, the newly revised African Evaluation Principles, and the recent Global Declaration on Evaluation for Transformational Change gives further impetus to this shift.

The first commitment of the Global Declaration is to “Promote evaluation for transformational change.” But how should evaluation commissioners, evaluators and users of evaluation (policymakers) respond to this call? For this to be a realistic ambition, there is a need to provide practical, implementable solutions to the sector. More people should understand that evaluation methods that are based on reflective, qualitative and narrative methods, which incorporate learning as a central feature of the evaluation approach and ethos, are necessary to shift the power in international development. And we want to give people the space to explore and talk about this in a safe space, with Southern evaluators, and to come up with practical solutions to promote evaluation for transformational change.

We should also recognise the challenges that come with trying to ‘shift’ power, such as historical power dynamics, resistance to change, and general global movement to the right/ more conservative. This is why we as Southern Hemisphere, a leading consultancy of the global South, invite participants to a thought-provoking roundtable to explore the role of evaluation learning and power dynamics in aiding transformational change, including for policy stakeholders.

This is a follow-up conversation that we hosted at the IDEAS conference in 2022 on a similar topic of “Re-imaging capacity building to Shift the Power in Evaluation.” The themes that have been identified below emerged from the session at IDEAs where participants posed specific challenges based on three questions: 1. What is the value of shifting the power through M&E? 2. What capacity is missing in the sector to do so? 3. What needs to change for M&E to shift the power?

Participants can expect a 1 hour 30 min participatory, virtual convening that will highlight the structural and systemic reasons why evaluation reinforces the power balance towards the global North, and what can be done to change this. The session will include a short panellist input and online discussion, interactive Q&A and group work all of which aim to produce thorough learning about how to Shift the Power through evaluation while still allowing for maximum engagement. The panellists’ inputs will revolve around the following topics:

1. Introduction - Laying the foundation through the introduction of shifting the power: The session will start by critically identifying that power in International Cooperation has its roots in the New Public Management and the principle-agent paradigm. Moreover, participants will be made aware of the importance of understanding what effects or challenges this has on program implementation and M&E – with a greater focus on measurement and accountability. As a means to counteract these effects, evaluation will be introduced as a tool for transformational change that can also Shift the Power in International Cooperation, influencing what and how information is prioritised and utilised for transformational change. Thereafter, the three panellists who are all practising evaluators in, and of, the global South will be formally presented. (Moderator Dena Lomofsky, South Africa: A co-founder of Southern Hemisphere and an advocate for greater empowerment through evaluation)

2. Theme 1: The value of decolonising evaluation in international development from a youth perspective. Here, participants will learn about the experiences of an African and female emerging evaluator seeking to contribute to transformational change in social justice and gender equality in the most unequal country in the world, South Africa. She will highlight her views and experiences on why decolonising evaluation is necessary for giving a voice to the voiceless, an essential step needed to identify areas for transformational change. (Ms Zimingonaphakade Sigenu, South Africa: an emerging evaluator actively engaged in South Africa's decolonization movement since her student days)

3. Theme 2: Context-driven evaluation methods and approaches. Participants will be offered a different perspective on the importance of narrative approaches to evaluation and how these tools can be used to produce and prioritize context-driven learning. These methods and approaches include Made in Africa evaluation principles, Most Significant Change and Outcome Harvesting. Examples of the implementation of these approaches and methods, particularly in policymaking, will be highlighted. (Dr Mark Abrahams, South Africa: An experienced, senior evaluator at Southern Hemisphere, and editor of the African Evaluation Journal who has a particular perspective on alternative evaluation methods and how they can be used to address power imbalances in International Development)

4. Theme 3: The unhidden power of new types of knowledge and evidence on results. There are clearly certain types of results and methods to generate evidence that are prioritised and legitimised in the evaluation field. However, they usually do not leave space for genuine participation of diverse stakeholders in assessing what is important in terms of outcomes and why. Is there room for innovation in MEL so that we can unravel the traditionally excluded types of knowledge (i.e. indigenous that emphasises body and heart wisdom), the alternative ways to generate it and what we consider positive and negative results overall? (Ms Vanesa Weyrauch, Argentina: A pioneer in alternative evaluation approaches)

5. Closing: Discussion on the Global Declaration for transformational change and recommendations . After each speaker has spoken for 5 minutes on their topic, the panel will then have a short discussion and respond to questions from the audience. Following this, participants will break into groups that will each be facilitated by one of the panellists and the moderator. Thereafter, each group will be asked to provide practical solutions to respond to the Global Declaration on Evaluation for Transformational Change and share their outputs once everyone reconvenes. Following the deliberations, general recommendations about how to shift the power through MEL will be discussed as a closing act for the roundtable. Recommendations can include:

• Emphasizing the role of MEL for programme improvement and learning, not just donor reporting.
• Establishing a standardized evaluation practice mandating the use of empowerment and African evaluation approaches, stakeholder engagement, and outcomes-based evaluation.
• Developing a learning community of evaluators with soft skills for participatory and empowerment-focused evaluations.
• Valuing local knowledge by empowering communities to participate and reflect on interventions, learning from both failures and successes.
• Capacitating stakeholders and communities to develop indicators and collect data for project ownership and sustainability.
• Integrating MEL at the programme's outset and as part of project management.
• Promoting collaboration amongst organisations to advance pathways of change to be addressed at community-level.
• Sharing success stories of evaluations that shifted power dynamics effectively.


Name Title Biography
Mark Abrahams Dr Dr Mark Abrahams is a Senior Consultant with Southern Hemisphere based in Cape Town, South Africa. Mark has more than 25 years’ experience in the field of monitoring and evaluation and is a founder member of the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA) and a former chairperson. He is the Editor-in-chief of the African Evaluation Journal, a publication of the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA). He has been utilised as a quality assessor of several national evaluations by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and is active in the M&E field internationally. His formal training is in M&E and in development studies/education, and he has worked with culturally diverse communities, youth and women, both rural and urban, non-government organisations and a range of government departments in South Africa and beyond
Vanesa Weyrauch Ms Vanesa Weyrauch, co-founder of both Purpose & Ideas and Associate at On Think Tanks, has worked in the field of policy and research for more than 20 years, particularly with Latin American think tanks and policymakers. Her work has focused on knowledge generation, capacity building, technical assistance, and mentorship. She has pioneered online learning on topics like strategic planning, research communications and monitoring, evaluation and learning on policy influence, especially with organizations in the Global South, promoting peer learning. She leads capacity building and organizational transformation projects built on systemic approaches, collective intelligence, and the co-creation of new and emergent approaches to traditional challenges. To that end, she uses a combination of participatory and creative facilitation methodologies such as Theory U, Design Thinking, and Liberating Structures. She is also an expert in monitoring, evaluation and learning and has worked with international organizations like Save the Children, UNICEF, IDB, PEERSS, GDN, OSF, DFID, IDRC and others. She has recently participated in future visioning exercises such Future Search or the ideation of CIPPEC (Argentina’s largest think tank) for 2021-2031 and strategic foresight for research for development facilitated by STIAS, University of Stellenbosch
Zimingonaphakade Sigenu Ms Zimingonaphakade Sigenu holds a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Development Studies from the University of Cape Town (UCT), Cape Town, South Africa. Zimingonaphakade has BSocSc in Politics and Sociology and a Bachelor of Social Sciences (BSocSc) (Hons) in Sociology, both awarded by UCT. Her expertise lies in research, monitoring, and evaluation (M&E) and project coordination. She has experience in conducting research and evaluations for projects that address critical issues such as education, youth livelihoods, socioeconomic redress initiatives and sexual reproductive health and rights. Through the work she does she seeks to contribute to social justice and favours context sensitive and participatory methodologies. Zimingonaphakade is a proponent for decolonial thought and scholarship, institutionally and in society at large. Her Masters thesis was an inquiry into the socially constructed meanings of impucuko (an isiXhosa/Nguni term considered to mean civilisation) and interrogated how the socially constructed meanings of the term can help us gain a situated understanding and provide the building blocks, albeit on a small scale, for indigenous knowledge to think differently about concepts like modernity, development, advancement, and progress. In 2019 and 2020, she was a research assistant on the IsiXhosa Intellectual Traditions (IsiXIT) Digital Archive project that works towards digitizing, archiving, preserving, and researching early isiXhosa texts produced in the 1800s and early 1900s. In 2023, she contributed a chapter to the book Azibuye Emasisweni: Reclaiming Our Space And Centring Our Knowledge which focuses on Africanisation and decolonisation of knowledges as praxis. She is affiliated with the Advancing Critical University Studies Across Africa (ACUSAfrica) network and is a member of the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) Youth League. In her work, she aims to centre African perspectives and amplify the marginalised voices.


Name Title Biography
Dena Lomofsky Ms Dena Lomofsky is a managing member and senior consultant at Southern Hemisphere. She is a development sociologist with over 23 years’ experience in the field, Dena has an honours degree in Industrial Sociology (UCT) and an MA in Social Development (UWC). Dena has always approached evaluation from an organisational development and transformation perspective, as a tool for social justice. She has been practicing as an evaluator in Africa for all types of organisations and has a strong perspective on the power dynamics that are set up through evaluations, and how these can disempower communities. As such she has been an advocate and pioneer in the use of alternative evaluation methods, and for the past two years she has taught a module on Alternative Advanced Approaches to Evaluation for the Masters in Programme Evaluation at the University of Cape Town. Dena has a special interest in participatory practices as tools for promoting evidence informed learning for transformational change. Two recent evaluations which addressed shift the power are: Applied research and evaluation • Team leader: Mid-term review of Love Alliance, a multi-partner, multi-country programme in 8 African countries, including regional and global activities, with a central focus on shifting the power through community-led monitoring and activism for Key Populations affected by HIV - For Aidsfonds, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Used contribution analysis as the primary methodology) (2023) • Team leader: Mid-term review of AWESOME – a coalition of women’s rights and women’s disability rights organisations working in three African countries, with a focus on strengthening women’s leadership, and addressing gender-based violence. For Womankind, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Used Outcome Harvesting infused with traditional DAC evaluation as the methodology) (2023)

Topics and Themes

Evaluators Evaluation Comissioners Evaluation users Culturally Responsive Evaluation Evaluation and transformational change: balancing ambition and realism International Cooperation Participatory/ Community based/ Collaborative Evaluation Youth in Evaluation

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