The humanitarian evaluation sector is of extreme importance in addressing gaps in humanitarian programs, ensuring accountability, and making sure that agencies with ample resources use them in the best possible way. This sector has the capacity to apply pressure onto these agencies in ways not generally known to the public. Civil society should have more exposure to these evaluations for them to be truly impactful. Otherwise, professed goals of learning and accountability might lean more towards lofty promises, rather than substantive objectives.
I wanted to briefly outline part of the process in the producing of evaluations. Dara is part of so-called frameworks composed of other similar evaluating organizations. This allows a limited number of actors to compete in proposing evaluation plans to big humanitarian agencies. The key here is that humanitarian agencies distribute TORs, or terms of reference, which outline the program they want evaluated and details about the kind of evaluation they want. Thus, a lot of the terms are set before proposals roll in from organizations like Dara. Proposals comprise things like detailed expertise, team leaders and team members that work alongside in a coherent manner, proposed desk support by the organization and a very detailed financial outline. Depending on the agencies involved, the geographic scope of the programs in question, or the temporal span of the evaluation, evaluations can cost between several tens of thousands of dollars to several hundred thousand. A lot of back and forth ensues in this process until the evaluating organization is finally chosen.
Whenever Dara is chosen to be the evaluating organization, team members are dispatched to the country where the program to be evaluated has taken place (though sometimes they meet in the headquarters of the organization beforehand). Our team in Madrid coordinates team members’ actions as they perform the necessary fieldwork and advises them though desk support that is not directly accessible on the field location. That work can take many months and leads to a set of deliverables, many of which are compiled into the final evaluation to be presented to the commissioning organization. I have worked on precisely these evaluations, since they are among the primary tasks of the Madrid office. My help has evidently constituted more basic elements of the process than those that occupy my colleagues, but those have nevertheless exposed me to the complexity behind the reports. I have also had the opportunity to review alternative deliverables unique to Dara’s standards, like narrative reports containing large amounts of photography to depict a particular situation more authentically and make it appealing to larger audience beyond the usual teams responsible for evaluations at humanitarian organizations.