Reimagining the VOPE model to fit the African evaluation context

By Ayabulela Dlakavu and Tebogo Fish CLEAR - Anglophone Africa (CLEAR-AA)


It is generally accepted that evaluation theory and practice originates from the Global North. These origins mean that evaluation has not escaped neoliberal ideology which dominates the economic, political and social organisation of the developed Global North. Voluntary Organisations for Professional Evaluation (VOPEs) likewise are a Global North invention, tasked with a mandate of advancing evaluation practice as a vehicle of improving development planning, decision-making, policy and programme formulation and implementation.


As with evaluation theory and practice, the form and structure of African VOPEs are also based on the Global North model of national evaluation associations or societies. Having studied and worked with VOPEs in Africa, we are of the view that the unique challenges and barriers faced by VOPEs in developing regions and countries warrant the development of a new VOPE model for the Global South.



For instance, African countries generally experience widespread development challenges such as high levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality and political instability. The reality of low demand for evaluation and the limited use of monitoring data by public sector institutions minimizes the effectiveness of interventions aimed at addressing these challenges. The limited human and financial resources dedicated to evaluation practice, as well as monitoring for compliance only, are common challenges that impede the use of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) evidence for decision-making. Therefore, a western VOPE model, which has largely emerged from a context of high demand for evaluations from national and subnational governments, adequate evaluation capacity, funding, as well as citizens’ demand for transparency and accountability of government operations, is not suitable for the African context. An enabling environment, therefore, does not exist for the Global North VOPE model that is stimulated by existing evaluation capacity among practitioners, a significant demand for evaluation from the state, civil society and the citizenry.


This Afro-centric evaluative paradigm should therefore drive the indigenisation and innovation in M&E practice on the continent.

The macro-environment within which African VOPEs operate is as follows: challenges with regards to evaluation capacity, the nascent nature of evaluation practice (evaluation agenda generally driven by bilateral and multilateral donors/development partners), lack of demand for evaluation from governments and national legislatures, the dominance of performance reporting (monitoring), lack of citizen demand for evaluation (although citizens hold the state accountable in certain procedural and substantive democracies). This context is not similar to the enabling environment present in the Global North. It, therefore, follows that African VOPEs need to be structured in a manner that is responsive to the challenges posed by the macro-environment described above.


It is the duty of African VOPEs and evaluators to develop Afro-centric research and evaluation methodologies that will enable the adequate participation of all intended African beneficiaries of development intervention irrespective of race, gender, age and class.

There is a need for African VOPEs to build a cadre of evaluators that is able to theorise and apply a nuanced evaluation paradigm that seeks to highlight and address issues relating to high unemployment, poverty, inequality and political instability. An Afro-centric evaluation paradigm should not seek to impose neoliberal ideology such as demanding democratisation but should rather advocate for governance that is responsive to the socio-economic challenges described above. An Afro-centric evaluative paradigm should seek to measure the degree to which development interventions in Africa are able to incrementally address poverty, unemployment and inequality which often trigger political instability in the form of civil unrest, unconstitutional changes in government and revolutions.


This Afro-centric evaluative paradigm should therefore drive the indigenisation and innovation in M&E practise on the continent. Scientific revolutions are partly induced by methodological innovation that challenges traditional methods of inquiry. It is the duty of African VOPEs and evaluators to develop Afro-centric research and evaluation methodologies that will enable the adequate participation of all intended African beneficiaries of development intervention irrespective of race, gender, age and class. Afro-centric evaluative methodologies should be routed in indigenous modes of knowledge generation such as storytelling. Furthermore, anthropological methodologies that are routed in participant observation, such as ethnography, should be advanced by African VOPEs and affiliated evaluators.


African VOPEs and evaluators have a historic mission of not only charting an independent and alternative evaluative path for Africa, but also defining development indicators that are relevant to the African context.

Through such a rigorous and strategic repositioning of African VOPEs and evaluators, national VOPEs will be able to influence policymakers and development practitioners due to an enhanced ability to measure and articulate the development needs and demands of African populations. The African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) has gone in the right direction by placing the Made in Africa Evaluation (MAE) approach at the top of Africa’s evaluation discourse agenda. This MAE paradigm is the Afro-centric evaluation approach that we have advocated for in the preceding section above. Through AfrEA’s advocacy, the macro-environment also presents opportunities for the advancement of Afro-centricity in evaluation scholarships and practice on the continent. It is this African character that will also strengthen Afro-centric conceptualisation of what development should look like in an African socio-economic and political context that has proven that neoliberal socio-economic policy and political systems are not necessarily suited to Africa. African VOPEs and evaluators have a historic mission of not only charting an independent and alternative evaluative path for Africa but also defining development indicators that are relevant to the African context.

While VOPEs are central to building strong and sustainable Afro-centric national evaluation systems, other evaluation stakeholders such as governments, evaluation capacity development stakeholders, civil society organisations, and bilateral and multilateral donors/development partners must also play a part.

While VOPEs are central to building strong and sustainable Afro-centric national evaluation systems, other evaluation stakeholders such as governments, evaluation capacity development stakeholders, civil society organisations, and bilateral and multilateral donors/development partners must also play a part. Evaluation capacity development (ECD) stakeholders such as the Centre for Learning on Evaluation and Results – Anglophone Africa (CLEAR-AA), the Centre for Learning on Evaluation and Results – Francophone Africa (CLEAR-FA) and other ECD stakeholders must provide technical and financial assistance to the endeavour of developing Afro-centric evaluation methodologies, working side-by-side with African VOPEs. It is only through an Afro-centric evaluative lens that African evaluators will be able to accurately capture the extent to which this continent has achieved the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, African Union Agenda 2063 and national development plans and visions. This is the intellectual and professional challenge to which African evaluation practitioners must respond.


 

Ayabulela Dlakavu is an M&E practitioner, analyst of public and foreign policy and political economist based at the Centre for Learning on Evaluation and Results-Anglophone Africa (CLEAR-AA). He is also a PhD candidate and Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg. Ayabulela is also a member of the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA) and African Evaluation Association (AfrEA). Follow Ayabulela on Twitter and LinkedIn. Contact him via ayabulela.dlakavu@wits.ac.za.

Tebogo Fish is a researcher working at CLEAR-AA in Johannesburg, South Africa. She holds a Master’s Degree in Research Psychology with research interests in M&E and development issues in Africa. Tebogo is also a member of SAMEA and AfrEA. Follow Tebogo on LinkedIn. Contact her via tebogo.fish1@wits.ac.za.