2.1. Technology for “off-site” evaluations
Due to the situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide, travels abroad are currently and during the coming months impossible. Therefore, on site evaluations cannot be carried out and we have to look for different means to gather the necessary data, e.g. with the help of technological means. Similar conditions for an evaluation could also arise for other reasons. Be it due to a critical security situation in the destination country or budgetary or ecological considerations, on the basis of which must be negotiated and assessed which parts of the evaluation could also be carried out “off-site” instead of on site.
Given the current situation, it is important to consider which projects/programmes/activities can be evaluated from a distance and which evaluation approaches and methods are particularly suitable for this purpose. Due to the economic challenges triggered by the Corona crisis, it will soon be all the more important to be able to prove that expenditure, e.g. for development cooperation, is spent effectively and efficiently. This will require creativity in adapting conventional monitoring and evaluation systems, as Jeff Chelsky and Lauren Kelly wrote in a recent blog article of the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group. While evaluators worldwide have been discussing about instruments that can be used in evaluations without field access in blog articles for years, they only tackle single issues (e.g. interviews). In regard of the challenges ahead of us, there should be more consideration given to how we can use modern technology to gather data or make use of data, which has already been gathered by other means.
How can we use modern technologies and existing data in order to carry out “off-site” evaluations without access to the field, replacing methods of data gathering by others? What potential, but also what lacks does such an approach have?
2.2. Physical site observation in the context of COVID-19
Physical site observation can serve as a turning point for an evaluation team. Seeing persons who benefited (or not) from an intervention can considerably boost evaluation team’s morale in potential usefulness of the evaluation.
I am currently working as an evaluation consultant at UN Women Country Portfolio Evaluation in Cambodia and Viet Nam. It would have been extremely important for the evaluation team to visit intervention sites and meet women and men who were impacted by UN Women’ work. In particular, due to our case study on violence against women in Cambodia, it would have been crucial to meet stakeholders at sub-national level, possibly attend provincial coordination meetings on gender-based violence, and talk to community members. However, due to travel restrictions and quarantines, gatherings are limited to 3 persons, and site observation might be forbidden for a non-local.
Some UN agencies (e.g. UNDP Infographics. Evaluation during crisis: COVID-19) recommend using satellite imagery when site observation is not possible, although the imagery cannot replace human observation which can provide, for example, spontaneous interactions with residents (to avoid bias in selecting beneficiaries by those who implement the activities).
What can be done when site observation is not possible, and satellite imagery cannot replace evaluators’ interaction with site residents?