Oberscherli, SwitzerlandOberscherli, Switzerland

Evaluation in times of pandemia

Just like kind of a global snowfall, the corona virus is embracing every walk of life, economies and politics all over. Difference is that streets remain dry, lawns green and roofs without snow. But provinces and entire countries are put under quarantine, public life turns more serene, fewer people are frequenting otherwise busy places such as railway stations or supermarkets, sports events loose every touch of FANatism due to games being played without spectators and fearful citizens stay at home. Before weeks unthinkable that one tiny nanometer-sized creature can almost paralyze entire nations, grind trade and stock-exchanges to near halt and leave health systems in growing stress.

Existential questions are immediate priority and no precious resources should be wasted for "nice to haves". Yet, it is natural to think of one's own profession and the likely implications of the tiny creature on evaluation. Should the development evaluation community be concerned?

A first reflex is that field visits to certain places might be more difficult if not impossible in times ahead. At least until the virus has been "tamed", be it through societal absorption, the availability of effective vaccines or changes of behaviour. Flights will be more haphazard in the light of entire airlines being in crisis. Travelling through railway stations, in crowded intercity trains, through airports and in closed-ventilation airplanes is an additional risk factor while on a mission. In the programme context to be evaluated, people may be more anxious to participate in joint analytical exercises such as learning workshops, peer-to-peer visits or simply larger meetings and conferences. It'll be more challenging to mobilise people for group interviews. And not least, the entire informal part of evaluation processes including joint meals with programme staff, dinners or cocktails and invitations will be suffering as long as there is imminent risk of contagion when in close contact among people, no matter where they come from and whether they had been exposed to risks in past weeks. 

The uncomfortable lesson from this is that for the time-being, home-office, internet-based exchange and communication and the avoidance of travelling whenever possible are necessary measures to be imposed also in evaluation settings. This can be critical for projects which require face-to-face exchange in the first place. But as long as fear and disquiet are reigning the institutional relations the world over, it will be very difficult to create evaluative processes the way we used to know them in the past. 

Hope this global snowfall will be over soon, no matter how much I like the real snowcover in winter.
                                                                        Martin Sommer
                                                                        Owner Consultant devolutions Ltd.