This blog is by Daria Blinova & Julia Rickenbacher, yEES! members
P2p+ Europe was thrilled to hold its second career advisory session for young and emerging evaluators (YEEs) in late February. Special guest speaker Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Meyer, Head of Evaluation Department at Universität des Saarlandes, responsible for Master of Evaluation MEval, Master (Blended-Learning) Evaluation MABLE, was invited to answer questions concerning the dominant evaluation trends in Europe and the skills required from the contemporary evaluator. Learning and mentoring opportunities for YEEs as well as the ethics of evaluation were also discussed during this session.
First, Professor Meyer identified diverging regional trends in the European field of evaluation: while there is stagnation in some countries, others – especially those where evaluation is less institutionalized – experience a stronger dynamic, in some cases driven by the European Union. Overall, the discussion evidenced that evaluation is still a young discipline and, as such, is still undergoing the stages of professionalization. Originally, evaluation as a sector was limited to pedagogues and sociologists. Today we can observe a growing trend towards interdisciplinarity within evaluation teams. This development reflects the complexity of evaluations that require a diverse combination of experience and skills. In this regard, it becomes clear that opening the door for young people is hugely relevant, as it helps avoid stagnation by getting new ideas, perspectives, and methods into the field. In the conversation, it was highlighted that the professionalization of evaluation can be one way of improving YEEs’ access to the field. Professionalization includes the definition of values, knowledge and skills evaluators need in order to conduct evaluations. This not only helps YEEs to decide which knowledge and skills to acquire but also to afterwards distinguish themselves as evaluators.
This leads to the second topic discussed in the session, namely the skills required from the contemporary evaluator. Professor Meyer pointed out that people who are new to evaluation often focus too much on technical skills and underestimate the importance of soft skills such as communication, interpersonal or organizational skills. Evaluation is first a social process, which is why soft skills are essential. We need to remember that we are working with and for people and we need to know how to communicate with them. Soft skills enable us as evaluators to accompany our clients and their projects as “critical friends”, empowering them to progress on their learning journey. However, evaluation is also a methods-based process and we, therefore, need empirical methods. Evaluation is a broad field with a multitude of ways of doing research. Professor Meyer sees a need for training on evaluation and newer ways of doing research such as the use of big data, where capabilities are currently lacking. For evaluators looking for opportunities to acquire knowledge and grow their technical skills, Professor Meyer recommended to join the MABLE programme (Master (Blended Learning-MABLE), of the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, as well as courses offered by IPDET (International Program for Development Evaluation Training).
Third, the conversation addressed mentoring opportunities for YEEs. Mentoring programs support YEEs in their learning and growing process, allowing them to exchange with more experienced evaluators. However, Professor Meyer remarked that finding mentoring opportunities is not an easy task, an issue that concerns not only European evaluators, but also the wider global sector. There remains a shortage of mentoring programs that could stimulate the potential of people new to the field. As the modern market demands new and fresh ideas, the question of how to guide these ideas is getting increasingly relevant. It is especially important to make voices from developing countries heard, where emerging evaluators are familiar with problems on the ground and are ready to foster dialogue and share creative ideas on solving those problems. The discussion highlighted the necessity to bring people of different backgrounds together, striving for inclusiveness. Mentoring programs are one example of creating such opportunities for participation.
This issue of participation also intersects with the final topic that was discussed within the session – professional ethics. When conducting an evaluation, there is the potential for conflicts to arise between people engaged in the process, such as the evaluator(s) and the people whose work is being evaluated. As a result, the latter may find themselves intimidated by the evaluation or even inimical to it, which prevents the idea of learning. In this sense, evaluation should provide room for mediation between different sides because participation means bringing different people together, allowing them to share experiences and learn from each other. However, participation itself is not a simple process to organize: It is necessary to justify the selection of participants and we need to think carefully about who should be included. However, ethical considerations are not only limited to the issue of participation but also concern questions such as what information can be included (from an ethical perspective) in the final report. The facts and information we present may have the power to hurt people and their careers. Professional ethics can provide guidance in this regard and serve as a basis for high-quality evaluation. It is needed, most of all, for respecting human subjects in conducting research.
Overall, the second p2p+ Europe career advisory session highlighted the importance of interdisciplinarity, soft and technical skills, ethical considerations, and – not least – the need to include YEEs in the evaluation sector. This last point is exactly where p2p+ comes into play: It aims to boost the emerging supply of well-trained M&E specialists by addressing YEEs’ technical and career advisory needs, mapping their career challenges and means to fast track their careers, and generating empirical knowledge to guide future YEE groups. Join the discussion and stay tuned for the next session!