The International Development Evaluation Association had its Global Assembly in Amman Jordan last week. The conversations around the role and use of evaluation in the MENA region was a hot topic of discussion. I was particularly interested in conversations focusing on the role of education for development and how evaluation can support educational programs and policies.
There were a number of good examples of policy leaders and evaluators working together to make some evidence-informed decisions to help improve education systems. Amongst the important points of discussion was the appropriate role of evaluations and how it can work FOR all the individuals involved in the education sector – including teachers, parents, policymakers, and development agencies.
For evaluation to contribute to improving education systems, evaluation needs to be integrated as a part of the policy and program cycle. This is not new news and has been successfully implemented in multiple sectors around the globe including in the MENA region.
But not systematically in education 😦
In education, it is a hit and miss and depends on a number of factors including capacity.
I mention capacity because this issue surfaced in almost all the discussions when talking about evaluation in MENA. Capacity to:
- design appropriate and relevant evaluation plans in line with objectives,
- to implement the evaluation plans, and
- to use the results to inform policies and practice.
This last point is very important. If evaluations are going to be useful, then they need to be utilized! If not, then the gathering and storing of data is wasteful. It is a waste of time and money. It taxes the time and energy of teachers, students, and principals. It frustrates the individuals in the system who are subjected to repeated data collection with no results or information being shared back with them. It can readily create data overload when there is no systematic analysis – I have heard principals describe this feeling as“drowning in data!” Finally, it undermines decisions because professionals working in schools tend to feel that senior level decision-making is whimsical rather than rooted in a valid understanding of situation.
This is a dangerous situation because the waste of money is unfortunate. But the waste of time paid by our students cannot be replaced!
We are in an era where information is highly accessible in so many sectors. In our daily lives, we now make decisions of value using information that is formed from data. We examine the relevant information (key indicators), consider reality, analyze the information given certain parameters, and then make a decision based on the results and our objectives.
The decisions made by educational leaders and policymakers are decisions of value. Those decisions have high consequences. Hence, in MENA, we need to build the capacity to use evaluations for decision making in parallel with the capacity to design and conduct valid, reliable, relevant and timely evaluations.
This is not a pipe dream. It is starting to happen. The Moroccan Evaluation Association partnered with UNICEF has a strategic plan that addresses both the institutionalization of using evaluation in organizations as well as professional development for evaluators.