African Thought Leaders Forum on Evaluation and Development: Expanding Thought Leadership in Africa
This Bellagio Forum was held to encourage fresh thinking in support of the Made in Africa Approach to Evaluation program being established by AfrEA. It arose from a realization that the ongoing emphasis on “building” or “strengthening” evaluation capacities on the continent without encouraging the active promotion of “new thinking” about evaluation theory and practice will eventually impoverish the profession and practice in Africa. This lack - or low profile - of thought leadership1 in evaluation in Africa has to be addressed: to date, evaluation innovations from Africa have been rare or largely invisible in shaping national, regional or global evaluation thinking and practices.
Considering development contexts, frameworks and trends, and their implications for the evaluation profession provides a starting point for such thought leadership. There is a symbiotic relationship between development and evaluation3 . Influential evaluation findings lead to new development approaches. As development strategies evolve, so do evaluation approaches. The African evaluation profession therefore occasionally needs to take stock of how the development context is influencing – or should influence – the direction of their theory and practice.
Some groundwork was done in preparation for, and at this forum. Participants discussed the development-evaluation interface and its implications for evaluation in Africa over the next decade, engaging with
• the unfolding context for development and evaluation
• the core belief in the value of ‘Africa rooted evaluation for development’
• first steps towards a framework for Africa rooted evaluation,
• the notion of ‘Africa driven evaluation for development’; and
• potential strategies for action, change and influence.
(The goals and comprehensive rationale for the conference are articulated in the conference proposal).
As noted above, development and development evaluation are inextricably linked. Creativity and entrepreneurship are demanded from both. It is the premise of the participants in this meeting that desirable African futures can be supported through the appropriate use of evaluation cognizant of these principles and values. A better understanding is needed of these issues in development evaluation, as well as new perspectives that acknowledge inherited legacies, confront the present and work with future aspirations. In this manner Africans can make an essential and significant contribution to global knowledge on evaluation for development.