By Yatin Diwakar and Harish Koidala
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.
One of EvalYouth Asia’s (EYA) stated objectives is to build the capacities of Young and Emerging Evaluators (YEEs), in line with the Asia Pacific Regional Evaluation Strategy. When EYA and Asia Pacific Evaluation Association (APEA) brainstormed on how to provide quick career development and capacity building opportunities to YEEs, we realised the need for conducting some basic training programmes that can plug the supply gap in capacity development in the region. Currently there are very few training programmes targeting YEEs who need support in navigating the complex world of the M&E profession. YEEs need support in learning the basics as there are few academic programmes in the region which teach M&E. They also need support to understand how to best develop their career in this field. When youth enter the evaluation sector from different academic backgrounds, they lack access to networks which can be leveraged to get better M&E jobs or consultancy opportunities.
This background led to the organisation of a short winter school where YEEs from different countries could come together, learn a few key concepts related to M&E and share their experiences. Unfortunately, as the global COVID-19 pandemic limited travel, this plan was shelved. But this challenge was turned into an opportunity with the planning of a virtual event. Thus, the first Asia Pacific Virtual Winter School for YEEs was held from 29 to 31 March 2021 and encouraged by its success, the second winter school was held from 17 to 19 December 2021. Now, we plan to annually hold this event virtually and hope to have separate offline events as well. These winter schools provide opportunities to selected YEEs in the region to become competent, experienced, and well-networked professionals who contribute to evaluation capacity at national, regional, and international levels.
Expected outcome for YEEs from the Virtual Winter School
These winter schools are organised by EYA and APEA, in partnership with all the EvalYouth national chapters in the region, Sri Lanka Evaluation Association (SLEvA), Evaluation Community of India (ECOI), EvalYouth Global Network, UNFPA, and the Center for Evaluation at University of Sri Jayewardenepura with outreach support by the Asia Pacific Communications Hub.
Partners supporting the Virtual Winter School
The transition to an online event removed physical barriers for participants, allowing a well represented, multi-country participation at no cost. The winter schools had speakers and resource persons from around the globe. It had participants from the Pacific in the East to Africa in the West, Kyrgyzstan in the North to Australia in the South.
While in itself this was a groundbreaking initiative in the region, what made it special was the way it was organised - exclusively through volunteers dedicating their time for completing each aspect professionally. The first winter school received ZERO funding, while the second received a small grant providing for a coordinator. Even in the paucity of funds, a dedicated team of organising committee members that represented various partners, volunteered to organise the winter school. Except two advisory members, all were YEEs, including the leaders and the consultant. This brought in a different energy and ethics to the group, where everyone worked together making best use of the online tools: Google Meet for weekly meetings, writing quick emails, and relying on WhatsApp for most communication. Calendar invites and shared drive spaces allowed timely collaboration enhancing partnership amongst volunteers across national borders. Similarly, WhatsApp groups of the participants promoted networking amongst the participant YEEs. The main event effectively used the meeting platform to engage the participants and provide a class-room like experience.
While any online programme or even offline events nowadays will do all these things, what we found special about the Winter School was the importance given to youth, who were not necessarily well versed with the different tools or the specifics of organising an event at this scale. Still, they came together, explored and learnt together from each other and delivered a very professional event, not once, but twice in the year. The volunteers learnt nuances of online meeting platforms and tricks for effective use of collaborative tools. They prepared detailed guidelines and template documents (moderator slides, producer guides, speaker guides, selection procedure, social media plans, etc.) which now can be used for any similar event. It also provided a sense of unity to these disparate volunteers from across the countries in the Asia Pacific.
The two Winter Schools provided opportunities to over 100 YEEs to hone their skills in M&E, but we believe that it offered the volunteers an even better opportunity and gave us the confidence to execute such a large, virtual, volunteer driven event successfully.
Over the past year, many participants of the Winter School have now taken up responsibilities in their EvalYouth national chapters (alumni of the first Winter School were crucial in setting up the second group of EvalYouth chapters in the region), some are active with their VOPEs and all are using the knowledge gained to effectively build their careers. One might say that the two Winter Schools provided opportunities to over 100 YEEs to hone their skills in M&E, but we believe that it offered the volunteers an even better opportunity and gave us the confidence to execute such a large, virtual, volunteer driven event successfully.
We hope that a new team of volunteers, comprising alumni of the winter schools and new co-leaders of the EvalYouth chapters will come together to regularly hold this annual online event and it will be complemented with some offline training programmes as well. This will contribute greatly to building M&E capacity in the region and in continuing the VOPE structures. This is imperative to strengthen the call for Evaluation for Action towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Yatin Diwakar is a PhD Scholar at the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas at IIT Bombay. He is a co-leader of EvalYouth Asia, co-founder and co-leader of EvalYouth India and a core group member of Evaluation Community of India. He is also the co-leader of the NEPS theme of Asia Pacific regional evaluation strategy and the co-author of the status report of NEPS in the Asia Pacific. Yatin is also working with the Government of India in the preparation of the National Evaluation Policy Framework. Follow Yatin on Twitter.
Harish Koidala is pursuing Masters in Public Policy from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He is the Mission Manager (Partnerships) with EvalYouth India and an active member of Evaluation Community of India. Harish was part of the team that organised the first Asia Pacific Winter school for young and emerging evaluators and the first ever Indian Evaluation Case Competition – 2021. Contact Harish via firstname.lastname@example.org.