Why evaluation capacity development matters: the British Council approach

Why evaluation capacity development matters: the British Council approach

Defining critical factors for the success of any evaluation capacity training.

Photo by Glen Noble on Unsplash

For a number of years, the Tavistock Institute has been supporting practitioners in different sectors to build their evaluation capacity in order for them to better meet the growing demand to demonstrate the effectiveness and value of their work. The British Council, like many other organisations working internationally and as well as locally, recognises that they too need to evidence the difference they make.

The British Council are also aware that many staff across all the regions they work in may have an interest in and/or requirement to engage with understanding and evidencing impact but it is likely that many will be in need of evaluation ‘literacy’ training. In response, the British Council has developed a three-year training and capacity building strategy and we are currently working with IpsosMORI to deliver the first two phases of this work through nine intensive training courses across four geographical regions and mentoring of a small number of Council staff.

Evaluation literacy training implies capacity building with people who have a limited level of knowledge or experience of evaluation yet, in many contexts, may be responsible for the design and delivery of programmes as well as commissioning and managing evaluations. As a result, they may require knowledge of evaluation in order to design programmes which maximise and demonstrate impact, gain learning for continuous improvement, or identify fundamental changes which can only be made on the basis of robust evidence. 

We believe that two factors are critical to the success of any evaluation capacity training. First, it needs to be firmly located within local contexts including social, political, thematic, programme and project considerations. While the British Council’s core training is relevant across all regions, there will be specific issues that will impact on evidence gathering (e.g. where projects/programmes are dispersed over wide geographic areas, where IT equipment and/or skills are limited, or where gender/power relations affect access to understanding impact). Contextually relevant content also engages participants and help cement learning. Second, organisations need to ensure mechanisms for embedding the learning from the training within programmes and projects.

A pilot course was delivered in London, UK, in February this year with attendees from wider Europe, the Americas and beyond. Building on programme design and Theory of Change development, participants welcomed the fact that we were not training them as evaluators. Instead, we were aiming to provide them with the knowledge and skills as programme and project managers to recognise, commission, manage and use high quality evaluations.

Ipsos MORI and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) have extensive experience of developing and delivering evaluation and research methods training for a variety of audiences. We base our approach on three core principles, also embedded in our mentoring:

  • A ‘test and learn’ principle: the pilot programme is being rolled out across four regions, with learnings continuously shared and applied to refine training for subsequent use.
  • An agile and responsive design and approach to supporting trainees: our training is based on a consistent structure and materials but tailored to meet local context and programme themes.
  • Integrating the pilot training with wider British Council evaluation requirements: we do not see this training in isolation from other evaluation activities. Our approach contributes to and learns from other components.

Linking Theory of Change to programme design as well as to evaluation planning, offers a comprehensive way of involving the many non-evaluators in evidencing the British Council’s work and exploring, where possible, the impact that their programmes have. We suggest that here and for many programmes and organisations, this is a good way forward where understanding and measuring impact is required in complex environments and emergent interventions — it’s good to know how to manage this along with and integral to the programmes themselves.

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