July 16 2010 – impressions from Ricardo Wilson-Grau (independent consultant) who presented on ‘Developmental Evaluation’
The Evaluation Revisited Conference met my expectations that it would not only be the foremost international event this year on complexity and evaluation but represent a step forward in common understanding about the theme. I believe the Conference will help erase “complexity” as a buzz word and give it real content, at least as pertains to evaluation of development projects and programmes. Even such a simple distinction as complex denoting situations in which the relationships of cause and effect are unknowable until the effect emerges, is a breakthrough. This distinction contrasted with an understanding of simple situations as those in which the relationships of cause and effect are known, and of the complicated in which they are unknown but knowable with some testing or experimentation, will go a long way to reducing the fuzziness in usage of the “C” word by development theoreticians and activists alike.
Beyond enhancing conceptual clarity, I believe the Conference represents a step forward in bridging the gaps in appreciation of the implications of complexity for development that exists amongst donors, amongst practitioners, and between development funders and their grantees. I certainly believe that the discussion with donors must be intensified so that the cat and mouse game is replaced by mutually agreed responsibilities and obligations for accountability – for performance and for results – when unpredictability reigns. When faced with complexity, instead of fudging unpredictability with elaborate hypothetical plans, development evaluation can offer rigorous monitoring and hard facts about achieved results – what has changed, why is it significant and how did the development intervention contribute.
A third reflection is about regrets that I have turned into commitments. With hindsight, I feel that I could have done more to meet people that I have heard of and admired – Richard Hummelbrunner, for example. I will try and not make that mistake again. Although unavoidable, I regret not being able to participate in more the case studies and workshops. I am watching the Conference website for material to be posted with an eye to systematically going through it all by the end of the year. And lastly, I regret that there was not more international participation, especially from Latin America. I realise that resources are limited and so another commitment emerges. I will do my best to carry the complexity message to other evaluation forums, beginning with the ReLAC Latin America and the Caribbean Evaluators Conference in Costa Rica at the end of July.