The following interview was conducted remotely with the help of yEES! Volunteers Lea Corsetti, Enes Kacatopcu, Esther Winston Ngulwa, and Supun Sandanayaka.
To learn more about the EES Conference and Professional Development Workshops visit: https://europeanevaluation.org/events/ees-goes-virtual-evaluation-in-an-uncertain-world-complexity-legitimacy-and-ethics-6-10-september-2021/
- Please give a short introduction of yourself for any readers who may not already be familiar with you
I’m an evaluator who has been working for a very long time in international organizations. My academic background is in geography and my professional specialization is in the nexus between environment and development. I hail from Finland but I’ve lived around the world for the past three decades and a bit more. Currently, I’m heading the evaluation function in the Global Environment Facility, the oldest public financial mechanism for the environment.
- Given the Conference’s theme “Evaluation in an Uncertain World: Complexity, Legitimacy and Ethics” in your view, what are the most pressing issues for evaluation?
The conference title captures some key words quite well. We do live in an uncertain world defined by climate change, overuse of natural resources, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, conflict, involuntary migration, growing inequality and fragility. All these phenomena are interlinked in myriad complex ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has had drastic effects on our health and economies and how we live our lives, but it is essentially an expression of the unsustainable way we interact with rest of nature. Ecosystem health and human health are closely related. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives us until the end of this decade to mend our ways lest we face runaway global warming with tragic consequences.
Evaluation must be able to contribute to solutions to these complex global problems. We can’t pretend that evaluation alone will be the saviour of the world but if it is not able to contribute constructively it will not be relevant. As evaluators we must be able to see beyond the internal logic models of individual interventions and understand how these interventions interact with the broader context. We must look for unintended effects—to the environment, to vulnerable groups, to women, indigenous peoples, to interventions perpetuating inequalities in wealth or power. And of course, we must always be looking for successful (and not so successful) lessons from past policies, strategies, programs and policies to inform the future. Mind you, “best practices” may not be readily transferable because the social, political, cultural, environmental, and economic contexts matter, but there still is a lot to learn from the numerous experiences around the world.
- What are your expectations for the 2021 EES Online Conference?
Fundamentally, my expectations are to learn from colleagues reflecting on their accumulated knowledge and experiences from a wide variety of situations. Unfortunately, the online format is not equally conducive to informal interaction in between and after sessions as a face-to-face conference would. Nor do you serendipitously walk into a random session that turns out to be very rewarding because you just happened to be there. Then again, virtual events have their benefits, too, not least in terms of their reduced carbon footprint. Europe is rather compact and well connected by a rail network, so it’s not the worst place to hold a physical conference either (although that still excludes us who live outside), but a virtual format also allows more participation by colleagues and especially students who may lack the means to travel.
- Can you give us a sneak peak of what your sessions will discuss?
I’m a participant in two sessions. Both are concerned with evaluation at the interphase between the human and natural systems. The first is ‘Evaluation and the Challenge of Our Time’, organized by Scott Chaplowe, and the second on is ‘Evaluators for the Good Anthropocene’, organized by Astrid Brousselle. I think it’s fair to say that in both sessions our overarching goal is to try to figure out how evaluation, as a discipline and a profession, can better contribute to the pressing global problems that affect human survival on this only planet of ours.
- If you could give one piece of advice to young and emerging evaluators, what would it be? To learn more about evaluation? To begin a career in evaluation?
Needless to say, I think evaluation is important and it can be a very good career path. It is still a growth business. We see it in international organizations and we see it in governments, civil society and many private sector organizations, like foundations. But I think it also could be better, more relevant and powerful, if it paid more attention to the broader aspects that I mentioned above. Methods are important but there’s sometimes a misconception that you can tackle any problem if you have A Method. I don’t think that is correct. First, I don’t believe there is a “gold standard” when it comes to methods. All valid methods—quantitative and qualitative—can be applied rigorously and it’s more important to choose the right method, the right approach to answer the question at hand. I’m a great believer in mixed methods approaches. Secondly, I do think that evaluators need to have sufficient understanding of the subject matter they are evaluating. To me, it would seem that an ideal profile for an evaluator would combine a thorough knowledge of evaluation theory, a broad range of methods, with an adequate familiarity with the subject matter in the preferred field. And I think this also has to incorporate a critical eye for unintended consequences, especially to the environment, because everything that we do has environmental effects.