Earlier this month, I attended No one left behind: Evaluating SDGs with an equity-focused and gender-responsive lens, an event co-organized by UN Women and EvalGender+ in New York City. As you know, the event provided a platform for fascinating discussions and I am writing in to request your views on how national consultants and international consultancy firms can work together to develop highly effective, innovative and cost-efficient solutions to evaluate the SDGs using gender-sensitive approaches.
In my experience, national consultants and international firms both contribute to the diverse skill set necessary for gender-sensitive evaluation solutions. The national consultants that I have worked with have in-depth contextual (national and/or thematic) knowledge and experience, pre-existing relationships with policy-makers, CSOs, research institutes, etc. and understand the country’s political economy and working culture. In contrast, international consulting firms typically have a broad perspective that is supported by in-depth experience in multiple sectors, geographic contexts and with diverse types of agencies (multilateral, foundations, INGOs, etc.) at various levels (global, regional, country level). They are able to conduct large assignments because of their organizational capacity, but are not always able to engage at the country level because of the costs involved.
In would be grateful to have your views on the following:
1. In your opinion, do national consultants and international firms offer different skill sets and/or approaches to crafting gender-sensitive evaluation solutions? If so, what are they and how do they differ or complement each other?
2. What are the emerging needs (skills, methodological approaches, etc.) of development agencies and national government representatives in the quest for building gender-sensitive national evaluation capacities?
3. Have you been part of a highly effective, innovative and cost-efficient partnership (as a national consultant or as a representative of an international firm)? If so, which characteristics of this partnership made it particularly successful?
4. Do you think the increased demand for participatory approaches in the context of the SDGs changes the way in which national consultants and international firms will collaborate in the future? If so, how?
Thank you and I look forward to engage further!
Universalia Management Group
You have raised a very important issue, that of complementarities of international firms/organizations and national evaluation and thematic specialists. There is also the complementarity of theoretical and practical contextual expertise. What I think is needed is greater acknowledgement of national consultant capacities, and also opportunity for capacity building. In many cases there are highly skilled national consultants, but international agencies cannot access them due to dual renumeration practices, allowing them to only recruit less experienced ones. In such circumstances, provisions could be built into the partnership that allows for their greater time involvement and capacity building on theoretical and broader perspectives.
Any way one looks at it, there are many ways of creating win-win conditions, and having this positive perspective will be helpful, and well worth allocation of resources to nurture these options.
Thank you Shubh!The distinction between theoretical and practical contextual expertise is useful, but I find that often there's an overlap between ''internationals'' and ''nationals'' in that regard. The former may have some country experience while the latter, i.e., a national of the country, also has theoretical knowledge based on his/her academic background. I would be interested to hear more about the type of capacity-building you are referring to (from whom to whom and on what types of skills?). Do you have any specific examples in mind? Can short-term consultancy opportunities lend itself to this considering (often) limited budget/timeframe? If so, how? Thank you!
I think that the "national consultants" and "international firms" dichotomy should be dismantled, if only because it can appear to reflect to a historical and corresponding distinction between "lesser competent and least paid" and "all knowing and never paid enough". While this latter difference reflects rather faithfully colonialist attitudes and their attendant exercises of power, inter alia through language and terminology, I think that one possible starting place to discuss how we can work together, independent of geography or similar considerations, is to develop our mutual awareness of power relationships and to discuss how these are embedded in the way we think, construct, talk and act. (Phew that was one long sentence! ;)
Looking forward to doing so.
I agree 100% Ian. Whenever I use the term ''national consultant'', in my mind it means (or should mean) ''someone who knows the national/regional/-sub-regional/local context better than I ever could AND has other skills/experiences that I don't have'' (i.e., it's 100% a good thing). Perhaps fleshing out people's added value/competencies/experience (irrespective of the level, rate and type of organizations they work for) is the key to dismantling the dichotomy and challenging existing power relations.
I am not sure about the need for dismantling the dichotomy. It has a value that is embedded in the perspectives that are brought to bear. One can relate this aspect to the 'emic' and 'etic' perspectives used in anthropological research - the difference in bringing an internal vs. external perspective to bear. The external perspective is better able to bring generalizations, and the internal perspective the contextual. There are a host of other complementarities as well.
Also, a professional may be a 'national' expert in one situation, and an 'external or international' expert in another situation. I for example cannot be considered a 'national' expert anywhere ! though I am of India origin, have lived in the US most of my adult like and have not worked in national organizations in either India or US ! Others i know in India have the local perspectives, experience and connections, as well as the theoretical basis generalizations and abstraction to larger contexts. Another type of professional is mostly embedded in local contexts.
Great input, thank you Shubh!
1. I think there are differences, indeed, between someone embedded in a culture (including its constellations and roles and rules) and someone in an international firm (including its mandates and practices.) I agree there are important complementarities as Shubh mentions: I'm thinking of an evaluation we recently did in a Latin American country where the (male) national consultant understood the politicking behind gender-focused interventions and the (female) international team lead followed his lead. I'm really cautious however about assuming that either brings a focus on gender equity or sensitivity by default. I have worked in environments where the national consultants are all men, or where the international firm pays mostly lip-service. We must be including these features - and ways to tell whether they are real competencies or paper-only - in our terms of reference, hiring patterns, and day-to-day evaluation work.
3. I've been part of partnerships across the range of your lovely adjectives and their opposites, and to me there are partnerships and then there are Partnerships. You can subcontract with local evaluators or firms and get back great, unanalyzed data sets, or you can include in the deal an agreement to work together on making sense of the evidence. The firm needs to be clear in all of its bewildering mass of expectations (in writing and in operational discussions) and realistic in its deadlines and cost structures, while the national partner needs to be open to external requirements - like certain types of transparent financial reporting, backing up data both in a physical sense and in terms of fully supported evidence, training of field teams according to certain standards, etc. Most national firms want to work and research and contribute, and they appreciate the partnership. Most international firms want to comply with their contracts at reasonable cost, but many will miss an opportunity to have live contextual input by hiring national firms as if they were survey mills - just to do the work cheaply.
Indeed, real partnerships with complementary (and proven) competencies! I'm particularly interested in flexible business models that might facilitate more engaged and substantive collaborations between various types of consultants given the budget constraints we frequently face. Or perhaps the ''business model'' lens is the wrong perspective from which to look at this? And are procurement processes of large agencies adequate for these meaningful partnerships to take place as part of evaluation mandates? Thoughts?
One thing that springs to mind is that intl firms often partner with national universities for this kind of data collection and (sometimes) analysis. I don't know if there's a cost savings there or not, considering the high overhead often charged by universities. But what I think has to happen no matter where you contract these services is a) a realization that we're all in this together and we need one another, 2) intl firms have to pony up the real costs for these services, not try to make their money on the backs of locals, and 3) that goes right back up to the budgets and proposals to donors/funders. You do, truly, get what you pay for.
As for large agencies' procurement processes, well, I have to believe that the human technical teams there, who should be able to know and weigh the values of these expenses in budgets and proposals, have to have the procurement mechanisms available to them to make these arrangements work. In my experience, they do, even if they don't know about alternate or flexible arrangements, or don't care to put in the extra work for them. Subcontracting is sometimes forbidden, which is a practice that can be problematic from an auditing standpoint but is absolutely essential.
Apart from whether or not an intl firm is allowed to subcontract, though, I don't see any major procurement difficulties as long as the technical team at that agency is willing to explore options within and amongst their labyrinths of rules. Of course it could be easier, but we have those rules because...loopholes and cheating and stealing government funds. So they're not going away. Best to find mechanisms within them that do work.
Great input Keri, many thanks for your contribution!
Greetings, I agree with most of what has been said but would reiterate a few items and may be add.
- international consultants/firms bring independence to the evaluation, and national consultants bring context and local knowledge. Many M&E methods and approaches have been practiced more in the context of international developments and the actual knowledge and lessons learnt have come from the ground up.
- notably, increasingly so, when international consultants are hired they are not from the "west" but rather from the neighboring countries or the same region, in the spirit of south-to-south cooperation and knowledge sharing.
- many agencies have issues with procuring services from local firms: depending on the country, the costs may be higher and so are the risks. Individual consultants are easier to find and fully integrate in the team.
-I don't think the increased demand for participatory approaches in the context of the SDGs will tip the balance: a lot has been happening and trends has been towards local ownership and use of national consultants as key team members and team leads. SDGs alone will not change the level of capacities, but hopefully government committments will drive national dialog and efforts to build capacities.
Based on my experience, reliance on national consultants for their contextual knowledge is key, I would not have been able to successfully complete many evaluations without my national colleagues.
To the extent that an evaluation is considered independent, its independence is anchored in the evaluator's autonomy to make an evaluative judgment, i.e. once the findings of fact are agreed to, the evaluator assesses these against agree value frames of reference ("criteria" are the most common but not the only one way of doing so).
Evaluation independence has little to do with the distinction between "international" and "national" or with the size of the firm, or where an individual lives and works. Nor for that matter do evaluation competencies. As a Credentialed Evaluator who is British, French, Canadian, born and raised in Morocco, living in Denmark, France, Canada, and working in countries and regions all over the world, the distinction between "national" and "international" is irrelevant. What matters is that I practice in those areas in which I have professionally recognised competencies.
The dichotomy between "national" and "international" is already irrelevant to blue marble evaluators.