Triangulating: The Next Generation is Emerging!

Riitta Oksanen is the Vice-President of the EES. She works as a senior advisor at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Development Evaluation Unit. In this post Riitta triangulates with Julia Brümmer who is a Project Monitoring Officer at the Lutheran World Federation, a PhD student in Governance and Policy Analysis at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and a Board Member of EES and Albine Guitard who is an Urban Planning PhD student in France at Paris-Est University writing her thesis about evaluation of urban projects.

Julia and Albine are the co-chairs of the recently established EES Thematic Working Group for Emerging Evaluators. Riitta, Julia and Albine discuss how voluntary organisations for professional evaluation (VOPEs) can support emerging evaluators.

Key Points

  1. Support to emerging evaluators is not a “kindergarten” initiative. Also more senior professionals entering the evaluation profession benefit from this support.
  2. VOPEs can have an important role in supporting emerging evaluators. They provide a forum for networking both virtually and during conferences also face-to-face. VOPEs must have a willingness to facilitate.
  3. Emerging evaluators are not only learners but can also contribute. There are many opportunities for “reverse mentoring”.

Riitta: Julia and Albine, I’m delighted to start the International Year of Evaluation 2015 discussing emerging evaluators! Let me first ask how you define who is an emerging evaluator? Is this an evaluators’ “kindergarten” or are there serious objectives for your EES Thematic Working Group?

Julia & Albine:

Emerging evaluators are professionals and students who recently joined the field of evaluation and who will be “the next generation of evaluation practitioners and theoreticians”. We initially thought about defining emerging evaluators as people with less than a certain number of years of experience, but finally we have decided to simply target people who feel new (meaning not senior) to the evaluation field, including students, young professionals, and those who have recently come to evaluation from other disciplines. So more senior professionals entering the evaluation profession can also benefit from this support and be a part of this initiative.

We would like to develop the TWG into a platform for the voices and initiatives of emerging evaluators as we believe that they can bring a fresh perspective on evaluation in Europe. We have many projects in mind – and also count on the ideas from our members - but the ones we would like to prioritize for now are: 1) involve emerging evaluators in the ongoing work of EES 2) hold an event with emerging evaluators at the next EES Conference in Maastricht 3) facilitate web-based interaction between emerging evaluators on topics of shared interest. If you are interested to know more about that last point, you may visit the TWG forum at http://europeanevaluation.org/forums/twg-5-emerging-evaluators.

Riitta: This sounds exciting! I'm already now impressed by the refreshing flow of ideas by your team. How do you see the role of VOPEs at national, regional (EES) and global level (IOCE)? How can the VOPEs best support emerging evaluators, and what does it take from a VOPE to provide this support?

Albine & Julia: VOPEs have an important role to play in supporting emerging evaluators. They should be a place where people who are new to the profession can seek advice, find resources and build up their professional network. VOPEs should be concerned about the next generation of evaluators, but unfortunately, in many cases, young and new colleagues are underrepresented in their membership and they hesitate to take initiative. This is exactly where the TWG for Emerging Evaluators comes in. We would like to see a strong and active participation of young and new members within EES. We want EES to be a place where evaluators at different levels of experience connect.

Riitta, as the next president of EES, what is your vision for engaging emerging evaluators into the work of EES and especially into the next EES Conference? What can our TWG contribute to make this vision become reality?

Riitta: I made a commitment after the Dublin conference to facilitate strong involvement of emerging evaluators in EES work, including the next conference. My experience from other contexts is that often the most important thing is the invitation and space to junior professionals to start participating. The second thing is attitude. Emerging evaluators should not only be seen as "support staff" for the boring, technical stuff. It is a mistake to think that emerging evaluators are only learners. So, I would encourage you to continue your proactive approach, and contribute with ideas on how we can work together. Finally, as always, dedicated resources are needed. Much can be achieved when you look at fresh ideas, voluntary work and innovation as resources. But let's also try to identify financial resources to support the process. It would be helpful to learn from EES members about any financing opportunities that they are aware of.

There are many important things that emerging evaluators can contribute. This is sometimes called “reverse mentoring”. What can more senior evaluators expect to learn from emerging evaluators?

Julia & Albine: Just as their more experienced colleagues, emerging evaluators contribute by developing ideas (concepts, methods) about the theory and practice of evaluation. Even though senior evaluators have been doing evaluation and thinking about it for many years, there are multiple examples of “reverse mentoring” or at least “complementary mentoring” by emerging evaluators bringing new concepts and tools into the field.

So the learning definitely goes both ways. At the last EES Conference in Dublin we implemented for the first time a “buddy initiative” bringing together pairs of experienced and less experienced colleagues for the time of the conference. In the feedback we received, we heard from the experienced colleagues that they benefitted a lot from the initiative. They found it inspiring to listen to the young/new generation and some of them actually found out that the “less experienced” colleagues were more up to date on certain issues and questions than themselves.

Generally speaking, any professional field can benefit from the inclusion of fresh ideas. Otherwise there is a risk of inertia, doing things the same way over and over again without questioning. Particularly the field of evaluation should be open to questions and perspectives that are unusual and a result of thinking “outside the box”.

Riitta: I would also like to add that when the emerging evaluators enter evaluation from other disciplines they can certainly contribute many things through comparative experience from their professional life.  It would be great to learn from what others have already achieved through emerging evaluators’ initiatives. Let’s hope that we get comments from colleagues who are further ahead in implementing similar initiatives.

Albine & Julia: One more question, Riitta: Sometimes, institutions or organizations that commission or conduct evaluations have difficulties finding well qualified junior experts to participate in evaluation teams. What would you recommend a young professional to do in order to “advertise” him-/herself and to get their first experience in the field?

Riitta: My own experience comes from development evaluation in Finland. In our case two important elements are involved. The Ministry for Foreign affairs selects external, independent consultants for evaluations through competitive tendering. It would be very risky for a consultant to propose a junior professional who would compete against senior evaluators. We have therefore included positions for junior experts in the teams, with capacity development objectives. They are not rated in the competition. The other side then rests with the emerging professionals: identifying the institutions specializing in evaluation, contacting recruiters, well prepared CVs, follow-up communication through phone etc.

Julia & Albine: It has been a pleasure to discuss with you and before wrapping up, we would like to add a quick word to promote the upcoming special edition of the EES newsletter Connections, which will be entirely produced by emerging evaluators. The newsletter will present issues that are of particular interest to people who are new to the evaluation field, such as education and different pathways that can lead to a career in evaluation. The call for contributions is open and can be found on our TWG forum.

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