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
That is a very appealing sentiment, Ian, and I always hope it is the case. I would caution against any automatic assumption of independence, however, based on the blue marble evaluator images. Having worked in one country for three years now (for the first time in my career of gallivanting a bit like you have), I realize the networks and allegiances behind many local consultants is not imaginary. It's not bad, either - it's how you get context, it's the path to hallways of power for interviews and policy-level perspectives, it's how that consultant earns his or her living AND how s/he continues important work in the sector.
An example: we evaluated donor-funded interventions to help victims of land mines, and the best candidate for evaluation director was an academic who also had previously held posts with the government's own land mines victims attention program (with a competing model.) Was he conditioned and with particular opinions because he had been "inside"? Or sufficiently grounded in context to be able to look at the evaluand from a position of in-depth local knowledge? Both are true. We worked to make sure the team had a balance of non-insiders and insiders, to counteract any preconceived opinions on the part of anyone, but we absolutely benefited from his experience. How else might we have known, for example, how to make realistic recommendations for possible scale-up within government budget limitations?
So I wouldn't put national affiliation in the "irrelevant" box. It's quite important and it needs to be discussed at the outset.
Thank you Keri, absolutely agree. Team composition is a key and often times both national and international expertise is needed. Notably, in your example, international living in a national context, a distinct group.
Ian, I think yours is a rare case (of many languages and passports and countries) and issues of competencies in evaluation is a whole other discussion. By mentioning marble evaluators you already put yourself in a different group, considered "external" and foreign to many national consultants.
Hi Keri and Svetlana,
A quick note and rejoinder before calling it a day. I think that rather than looking through the lens of "national" vs "international", it is more practical, accurate and fair to talk about knowledge of context. And context is about an infinity of possible environments, organisational, local, political, cultural, etc. Once again I think "geography" and using the country as a unit of categorisation is unhelpful and reflective of what I hope is now well recognised as a post-colonial paradigm and rejected as such by our evaluation communities.
On the "rarity" of my case you may wish to consider Nassim Taleb's writings (the Black Swan among others). Your remark on the blue marble reference is an interesting and revealing one: how are evaluators with an interest in trans-cultural global systems perspectives not "national" and what are they external to?
For my own i think that there is a overall methodological diversity and many evaluators don't even well understand the concept of gender not talking of mainstreamed it in evaluations. Capacity building is necessary to harmonize the knowledge and the frameworks of the gender sensitive evaluation. This means that we should have a set of tools and methods designed to be easily adapted to the differents context.