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Capacity development in both evaluation & communication: proven benefits and future directions

[This blog post was written by Ricardo Ramirez & Dal Brodhead, Principal Investigators of the project Designing Evaluation and Communication for Impact (DECI)]

In this posting we share our practical experience in capacity development in the fields of evaluation and communication.  We have been mentoring projects to produce evaluation and communication strategies together. Our partners have been research projects globally, all of which aim to influence national policies in the areas of open education, open development, open science, and cyber policy. Both this project and our partners’ have been part of the Networked Economies program of the International Development Research Centre (Canada).

We are entering the third phase of our work under the revised project title: Designing Evaluation & Communication for Impact (DECI) (for reflections on DECI’s phases 1 and 2 at P&I see Mentoring researchers in evaluation & communication: Examples in the making). The DECI approach is founded on principles of:

  • Adult education that emphasize starting from where the learner ‘is at’,
  • Learning as an intentional process,
  • An action orientation for experiential learning, and
  • Reflection.

At the same time, DECI’s hybrid approach is built on foundational concepts and theories:

  • The theoretical overlap between evaluation & communication;
  • The capacity building approach in evaluation;
  • The notion of readiness as a requisite for mentoring; and
  • The outcome of capacity development in communication.

How do we engage partners in mentorship? We believe this process begins with understanding their situations and contexts, as well as confirming their readiness to learn. This process calls for an early phase of relationship building to create a shared or mutual trust.

Planning steps from UtilizationFocused Evaluation (UFE), communication planning, and learning & facilitation

The planning steps guide the mentoring and lead to questions for the project team to work on. As they progress, they discover connections between evaluation and communication purposes. The learning & facilitation dimension includes using participatory inquiry tools such as Theory of Change and stakeholder analysis, whereby concepts and relationships are visualized to enhance a collaborative vision. The planning leads to concrete outputs: evaluation designs, communication strategies, and learning agendas. This process allows the project teams to become more adaptive to manage change as conditions require.

Ramírez & Brodhead, 2017.

Ramírez & Brodhead, 2017.

Gaining capacity throughout a trajectory that develops skills, ways of thinking/planning, and a form of practical wisdom.

The learning process begins with the sequential review of planning steps in evaluation, with research communication complementing the process as needed; at other times both are developed in tandem. This approach to learning is a form of mentoring that follows a sequence of decision-making steps. As the project team members begin producing outputs (evaluation designs, communication strategies, and learning agendas), they grow to understand how much they have learned through hands-on practice. Once the project is more advanced, and the DECI team produces a case study as part of its own meta-evaluation process, the partners are able to reflect on their experiences and their acquired capabilities. This outcome is often evident in their way of thinking in evaluation and /or communication terms. These enhanced skill sets are central to strengthened adaptive management capacity. These changes are often referred to gaining a ‘practical wisdom’ or knowing what to do under unique circumstances that rarely happen again.

When DECI projects put the three elements together, project partners benefit from the linkages between them: working at the pace of the project; providing skills sets for adaptive management, all done inside a space that provides confidence in this learning process.

An open learning space

After five years of action-research, DECI has created a learning space that enabled projects to be clear on their goals and strategies, and to adjust them.

The DECI team is based in several countries and continents, and its members continue to adapt the approach that is being shared through a totally revamped website that profiles a searchable knowledge base with over 80 documents and information of relevance for a broad set of profiles working in the evaluation, communications and capacity building field:

  • Evaluation Practitioners will find examples of utilization-focused evaluation (UFE) and developmental evaluation initiatives.  They will also discover the benefits of introducing communication planning early on into an evaluation process.
  • Communication Practitioners will find examples of research communication (ResCom) used as a tool to help research projects design their communication strategies early on.  They will realize the added value of introducing evaluation questions into communication planning.
  • Mentors and Facilitators of Learning will recognize the value of just-in-time mentoring, whereby projects receive support at their own pace, when they are ready.  They will also learn about the importance of a Readiness Assessment early on, to confirm that conditions are present within which demand-driven mentoring will be effective.
  • Project managers and Commissioners of Evaluation will discover the benefits of the simplified hybrid approach, where evaluation and communication planning enhance each other. They will recognize the value of having project teams gain a sense of ownership over their evaluation and communication strategies.

Facing the third phase of the project, the DECI team continues to adapt this hybrid process with the support of IDRC and with other partners, and we look forward to hearing about similar experiences from those who visit our website.

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