Bringing Mandela to grassroots evaluation

After South Africa's Nelson Mandela died, accolades flowed as did deep sorrow for a passing of a man of such forgiveness and peace. I too was one of millions who went to anti-apartheid rallies and rejoiced when he too stood before us after he was freed.

What struck me most were the posts that looked at how we could continue to manifest him: 1) South African business leader and head of GAIN, Jay Naidoo "…our beloved Madiba, our founding father of democracy… pledged 'Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…' 

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Madiba exuded the same serenity which in his life had filled the hearts of everyone he touched – the billions of the poor, marginalized and oppressed in the world…. even in death he was able to call out the humanity within each of us; to care, to embrace our people with integrity, humility. Leaving this solemn shrine I sensed the disciplined determination. We connected back to his fiery commitment and vowed not abandon dream of a better life for all. As we descended the stairs the helplessness and the fear evaporated. The streaming column of humanity was united by a single-minded focus on reclaiming the legacy of Mandela. They are reclaiming our shared past. And we were unafraid again.

We should not be looking for another Mandela. This week is an opportunity for us to search for the Mandela within each one of us. We want our leaders to live up to the morality of Madiba. We want our leaders to be honest. And to do what the father of our nation did so well: listen. Listen to the people before they stop listening to you; because the people have found the courage and fearlessness of Mandela to demand the promise of freedom now."

Secondly, amidst the chorus of accolades, a practical suggestion appeared, one which speaks to me about the longing for Africans to evaluate Africa. A leading member of AFREA (the African Evaluation Association), Issaka Traore suggested: "What about a Nelson Mandela Award for all upcoming AfrEA Conferences starting with the next one in Cameroon. We can do this in two ways:

1. Nelson Mandela Award for ‘Made in Africa approach to Evaluation’. With this Award at every conference AfrEA will give an Award to any Evaluator or group of Evaluators including Scholars, who have produced an Evaluation Paper or Evaluative Research Paper on ‘African communities knowledge, know-how or practices/skills in Evaluation’.

2. 7th AfrEA Conference Nelson Mandela Evaluation Prize. The organizing committee could launch a Prize for any Evaluator, group of Evaluator, National Evaluation who/that will compile all messages on Madiba following his death, pointing out content of these messages related to: the Relevance of his struggle, the Impact of his fight in South-Africa and Worldwide and finally the Sustainability of his vision."

Yes! How do we do this? There are newly appreciated participatory methodologies and studies such as Empowerment Evaluation and “Who Counts?  The Power of Participatory Statistics.. New ways to understand development project participants includes 6,000 participants on aid impact research Time to Listen, plus other research that is fundamentally shifting the focus to customers, clients,  co-creators, or my current favorite, constituents”.

We need to incorporate their voices more strongly now — international development projects can use national evaluators to independently evaluate projects with communities, even if that adds a few days to current evaluation timelines. There is encouraging evidence that international projects are prioritizing the use of national evaluators, as Eval Partners' VOPE (a pairing of international and national evaluators) promotes, and a recent SIDW/ Charney review of USAID-funded developmental evaluation attests to. We can use mobile text/SMS technology to crowdsource feedback from participants on project impact and sustainability throughout current project implementation, as non-profits such as CRS, Mercy Corps and the CORE health consortium are successfully doing.

For as we try to manifest Mandela, we need to hear the voices of our participants. A Tanzanian friend reminded me that "we Africans have a saying. 'Until Lions have their own historians, the history of the jungle will always glorify a man'."  So we need to support country-led evaluation, locally-led impact determination, designing and shaping their own development and history.