By Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas Founder and CEO/CFO, EnCompass LLC
This blog is part of the Eval4Action ‘Walk the Talk’ blog series. The series details six nominated actions for influential evaluation that were contributed during the Walk the Talk drive, held in October 2021. These lessons and reflections inspire greater action for influential evaluation in the Decade of Action.
When EvalYouth Global Network, Global Parliamentarians Forum for Evaluation and the UNFPA Evaluation Office announced the Eval4Action campaign, the EnCompass team immediately signed on for three reasons:
Evaluation. We believe in the role of evaluation in promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leaving no one behind. As Marco Segone (Director, UNFPA Evaluation Office) said in the introductory video for Eval4Action, evaluation is well-positioned to have “the highest multiplier effect on sustainable development.” We agree, as evidenced in EnCompass’ mission: to support organizations through evidence, engagement, and learning to harness their strengths and diversity for sustainable positive impact.
Values. Our values of celebrating diversity and co-creation align well with Eval4Action’s values of inclusion and partnership. The focus on action resonates with us as an inclusive invitation to every person and organization to contribute based on their strengths.
Youth. Sustainable change must involve young people, because they should have a role in shaping the future that belongs to them and future generations. They bring energy, passion, ideas, confidence, and impatience.
Participating in the Eval4Action campaign gave EnCompass the opportunity to focus action on these important values, to see the link between actions already taking place across our company, and to find new ways to support the SDGs. Let me share briefly what we learned through our participation in the Eval4Action campaign:
Lesson 1: An openness to younger people opens the mind, invites curiosity, and energizes communities. Young people are invested in the future in a more immediate way than those of us who have been around for a while. Things that older people had to unlearn and or learn later in life, young people know, because they grew up with them. They have instincts informed by that knowledge and fresh ways of seeing possibilities.
In action: Hosting a GEDI scholar. For a long time, we hoped to get to a place where we could host a scholar from the American Evaluation Association’s Graduate Evaluation Diversity Initiative (GEDI). In 2020, we were able to host our first GEDI scholar, and hope to continue to be a participating host organization for the programme in the future. Our excitement when we welcomed our first GEDI intern was palpable and the experience was rewarding for all of us.
Participating in the Eval4Action campaign gave EnCompass the opportunity to focus action on these important values, to see the link between actions already taking place across our company, and to find new ways to support the SDGs.
Lesson 2: Action builds confidence and renews commitment. You can surprise yourself with what your own action can achieve, especially when others are engaging in similar action. You can be inspired by yourself and your colleagues and be optimistic about what is possible, and you can take action to bring that possibility to life.
In action: Developing the Gender Transformative Design and Evaluation Learning Programme. EnCompass has been working in gender since the earlier days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and conducted some of the earliest gender-based violence (GBV) research under the United States Agency for International Development’s AIDSTAR One Project. Since then, we have refined and integrated new approaches and tools such as an Appreciative Gender Assessment, the Gender Integration Continuum, the Toolkit for GBV Integration in the Transport Sector, and many others.
Inspired by the Eval4Action campaign, we decided to launch a new online learning programme in the EnCompass Learning Center (ELC) that brings together some of the things we have learned over the years. This was harder to organize than you would think; with staff members working all over the world, we had to put in extra effort to make people available for pulling this course together. The result has been rewarding, both because of our own learning, and because of the enthusiastic response by the broader learning community. We have now set new goals for ourselves to expand our gender programme with additional modules such as gender budgeting, gender indicators, integrating LGBTIQ+ communities, and intersectionality with race and ethnicity.
Being part of the Eval4Action campaign gave us a lift in these efforts, knowing we are not alone, and fired us up by the shared intensity of commitment to a vision where no one is left behind and our planet is protected and cherished for future generations.
Lesson 3: Focusing on and engaging in action becomes a mindset. The focus for action invited participants to turn their good intentions into reality, showing us that we can each contribute toward the SDGs. The motivation and confidence that is built from focused and intentional action develops a new muscle in the brain and the way we approach our work. Yes, we were intentional before, but now, we have become more so. The SDGs offer standards through which we review our broader success and progress, and they call us to tackle complex international development questions in new ways.
As a company, we are discussing how to move more effectively toward racial and ethnic equity, how to build more equity and mutuality in our relationships with partners in the countries where we work, and how to enact inclusion inside our company and with our clients’ communities. Being part of the Eval4Action campaign gave us a lift in these efforts, knowing we are not alone, and fired us up by the shared intensity of commitment to a vision where no one is left behind and our planet is protected and cherished for future generations.
In action: Volunteering time to support the Eval4Action launch and offering free slots to EvalYouth in ELC classes. The COVID-19 pandemic had just hit when Eval4Action launched, so when in-person regional launches became impossible, EnCompass enthusiastically agreed to host and emcee the online launches. It ended up being a bigger endeavor than anticipated because of the enthusiasm generated by the campaign in every region! For our staff, participating in Eval4Action was one of the most exciting things we were doing, and colleagues eagerly awaited news of each new launch.
For those most closely involved in the regional launches, the most exciting part was working closely with EvalYouth leaders in different regions. These EvalYouth leaders brought an unrestrained vision of what was possible, and were undaunted by obstacles. For example, when we wanted to have language interpretation, EvalYouth leaders found volunteers among themselves; they organized group facilitators and preparation meetings, created communication material in different languages, and found quick avenues to disseminate the news. Inspired by these young leaders, EnCompass decided to offer a series of free spots in ELC classes when the regional launches ended, so we could do our small part in supporting this incredible, awesome network called EvalYouth.
So, Eval4Action colleagues, what’s next? We have no doubt that EvalYouth will lead the way, and EnCompass is ready to be by their side.
Tessie Catsambas has 30 years of experience in planning, evaluation and organizational development. She was the 2019 president of the American Evaluation Association. She is an innovator in appreciative evaluation methods, authored the first published research on appreciative evaluation (Journal for International Health Care Quality, Volume 14, Supplement I, December 2002), and co-authored Reframing Evaluation Through Appreciative Inquiry (Sage Publications 2006). Follow Tessie on Twitter and contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.