The future of evaluation: Young and emerging evaluators as champions of cultural responsiveness

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Cover image for Future of Evaluation event and blog

This blog was written by Alice Macfarlan and Claudia Olavarria, with input from colleagues at the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) and Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI).

A recent essay competition for young and emerging evaluators (YEEs), jointly hosted by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI), and EvalYouth, invited emerging evaluators to propose solutions for closing the gap between global and local knowledge.

The essay competition was launched during the gLOCAL Evaluation Week 2023, with the webinar Culturally responsive evaluation: How do different regions approach it? The competition saw enthusiastic participation by evaluators from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, among others, and received 29 essay submissions.

Why is culturally responsive evaluation important in today´s world?

As the world faces increasing development challenges, evidence-based decision-making has become more important to nurture sustainable change. However, traditional approaches to evaluation provide limited answers to evaluation questions, lacking a comprehensive understanding of the cultural dynamics in which change occurs. Evaluation that is responsive to culture and context allows evaluators to have a better understanding of the findings since they can interpret these within a specific cultural context.

Culturally responsive evaluation is crucial for adapting evaluation practices to meet global challenges effectively. It ensures that evaluations are sensitive to the cultural context of the communities they aim to serve, leveraging local knowledge and expertise to produce more meaningful and impactful outcomes. What does this look like in practice? How can evaluation practice evolve to incorporate cultural responsiveness and still be influential?

This competition's aim was to encourage innovative and practical approaches to improve evaluation that come from the generation of evaluators responsible for the future of the field. As Dugan Fraser, the GEI’s Program Manager, highlights in the competition launch event, emerging evaluators “bring a distinct perspective that can offer new and innovative approaches to bridging the gap [between global and local] knowledge and realizing the opportunities of culturally responsive evaluation to generate more relevant evidence.” He further notes that encouraging and supporting young and emerging evaluators is a vital part of the shared mandates of IEG, GEI and EvalYouth to strengthen global evaluation capacity. 

Competition process

Young and emerging evaluators were invited to submit essays, as individuals or as teams, on the following topics:

  • Case studies of culturally responsive evaluation in practice.
  • Explorations of the challenges of and opportunities for integrating the principles of culturally responsive evaluations into evaluation practice.
  • Discussions of the specific role emerging evaluators can play in the advancement of culturally responsive evaluation.
  • Reflections on meeting the challenge of communicating the validity of culturally responsive evaluation and getting influential voices and changemakers to listen.

One of the aims of this competition was to foster a global discussion. To support this aim, the four judges selected for the competition all brought a range of experience in considering and incorporating regional and local cultural dynamics in designing and conducting evaluations. The judges were Walaa Ayasrah, Senior Manager at Jordan River Foundation and chairperson of EvalJordan; Mercy Fanadzo, Program Administrative Officer, CLEAR Anglophone Africa; Gabriela Rentería Flores, Chair of EvalYouth Global Network and co-lead of Eval4Action; and Rai Sengupta, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant, Ecorys London. (Read more about the judges of the competition.)

The competition attracted 40 participants contributing 29 essays. There was strong regional diversity among the participants, with individuals representing 26 countries from across the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. This global participation underscores the broad relevance of the competition’s themes.  

Although choosing the winning essay was difficult, the judges reached a unanimous decision. Please join us at the Future of Evaluation event, to be held from April 8 to 10, 2024, as a fully virtual event, for the announcement and presentation of the winning essay. The second and third-place runners-up will also be announced at the event.

The judges’ reflections on the essay competition

Walaa Ayasrah shared that she found the experience to be “deeply enriching” and that the essays provided a glimpse into the future of evaluation practice. Walaa found it particularly insightful to see how young evaluators approached the topic of cultural responsiveness because their essay submissions highlighted the need to move beyond traditional evaluation frameworks and embrace culturally situated methodologies. She noted the need for evaluators to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion as core principles to ensure that evaluation processes are rigorous, ethical, and meaningful for all stakeholders involved.

Mercy Fanadzo emphasized that to operationalize transformative evaluation, stakeholders must be willing to embrace change and commit to improving people’s lives. She noted that sustainable changes take time and that they originate from fundamental shifts that impact every facet of development initiatives. Key factors necessary to achieving sustainability include intentional, prioritized, and intensified collaboration initiatives, capacity building in evaluation, and meaningful involvement of young and emerging evaluators. This involves recognizing their contributions, facilitating knowledge acquisition, and providing opportunities to access the monitoring and evaluation job market.

Gabriela Rentería Flores reflected on the amazing “discovery journey” of participating in the competition as a judge. She was particularly impressed by the young and emerging evaluators’ commitment “to integrating cultural sensitivity and responsiveness into their evaluation practices.” She noted how the essays highlighted the importance of cultural competence to improve the effectiveness and relevance of evaluation processes. The experience reinforced her belief in the need for continuous learning and adaptation in approaches to culturally responsive evaluations to ensure they remain effective and respectful of the cultural contexts in which they are applied.

Rai Sengupta shared that judging the essay competition was a wonderful experience. She noted that the essays highlighted the importance of including cultural nuance to ensure the success of evaluation findings and their subsequent inclusion in policymaking. She reflected that while some essays offered deeply moving arguments on fostering culturally responsive evaluation, others highlighted innovative case studies applied in practice across the globe. She noted particularly how the essays were focused on creating evaluations that were more relevant and accessible to all stakeholders, thanking IEG for organizing the competition.  

IEG, GEI, and EvalYouth are thankful to every young and emerging evaluator who participated in the essay competition and the competition judges who made this initiative possible.

Next steps

Join us at the Future of Evaluation event for the announcement of the winner of the competition, a presentation of the winning essay, and an opportunity to engage with a range of experts and practitioners. The virtual event will run from April 8 to 10, 2024.

Young and emerging evaluators have a vital role to play in the evolution of the evaluation field, and we hope they will stay involved in ongoing discussions and continue to share their ideas. If you’d like to stay up to date with GEI and suggest content on culturally responsive evaluation or other topics related to monitoring and evaluation for its BetterEvaluation platform, you can join as a member.

For more information on IEG@50 events that you can participate in and to register for the YEE event, visit our IEG@50 page.

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