Learning to See Clearly

Jamie Clearfield's Musings on Evaluation and Development


Lessons Learned from the Field Part 2: Build Strong Organizations

Greetings, I’m Jamie Clearfield. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the different organizations I have worked with and how they have impacted me as an evaluator.

I first worked with a community-based organization in Kenya (you can read that post here. I next worked with a rural HIV education and testing organization, Support for International Change in Tanzania. The organization does tremendous work in leadership development with young Tanzanians and also working with over 100 villages in providing quality HIV education and testing services, as well as access to care to those living with HIV, where others fear to travel.

SIC is not afraid of the long hours, non-existent roads, alternating choking dust and sinking mud if it means that one more person can learn to protect themselves or access care. Moreover, as an organization SIC is focused not only on the work but on developing strong internal leaders and providing staff opportunities to be heard and grow. This means that a Tanzanian university student volunteering on an education campaign can later become a full time staff member. Regular and open communication, working with local culture, and the development of not only a strong strategic plan and goals, but actively working towards those goals were all key features that I now recognize as elements of a robust and innovative organization.

At the end of each year, SIC held a 3 day long planning meeting – setting aside time to review the years goals and focus on how they were met. What worked well? What didn’t work well? All staff was included, from the managing director to the drivers who drove the trucks filled with field staff and equipment to and from the villages. The strategic plan was reviewed, goals were set for the coming year, goals that made sense because they were developed by the very people who know what it takes to accomplish them.  Data was reviewed from the past year – data that was systematically collected and regularly reviewed at monthly staff meetings. None of the data was new, but being analyzed within a broader context of how it helped the organization meet its broader mission.

The time this organization took to review, revise, praise, and come together set a broader tone of mission and a recognition that their work is important and on-track.

My lesson: Building a strong internal organization is as important as the work the organization does, if not more so. A strong internal team, working together on shared mission and goals, means work on the ground has a focus, is determined, and of quality. As an evaluator, this is crucial for our evaluation work as it is for the organizations we work with. As an evaluator, maintaining focus on my own internal mission and my organization’s mission is crucial.

And perhaps our role as an evaluator should also be to help organizations become stronger internally. Not only will it make our work as evaluators easier, but it might just mean better results.

What lessons have you learned through your work as an evaluator or working with organizations? What are some of your personal mantras when you’re working in evaluation?

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Lessons Learned from the Field, Part 1: Define Your Mission

Greetings, I’m Jamie Clearfield. I’m an evaluator with CEAC (Collaborative for Evaluation and Assessment Capacity) and am new to the evaluation blogging world*. I’ve been having a lot of discussions lately with many different people about evaluation and organizations. Having attended a recent networking event with the New York Consortium of Evaluators (NYCE) featuring David Hunter, it got me thinking a lot about the different organizations I have worked with and how they have impacted me as an evaluator.

I got my start working with a community-based organization in the Kibera slums of Kenya, interning during a study abroad program. The experience was and continues to be transformative – nearly 7 years later I’m proud to be still involved with them and seeing how they have transformed their community through providing free secondary school education for girls. Working with the Kibera Girls’ Soccer Academy was an education in the power of what communities can achieve working together.

No MBA, no doctorate degree can take the place of dedicated people who are willing to experiment, fail, reevaluate and transform day after day no matter the challenges. And there were challenges – within 2 months after I arrived, the school was evicted from the bare two rooms it had acquired unless it began charging the girls tuition. The school’s director and founder, Abdul Kassim (check out his Nairobi TEDx audition below)- a charismatic man, a leader with a simple vision and a heart full of love for his community and for seeing it become a place where everyone has a chance – and I had many long walks and talks about the nature of challenges, remaining true to convictions and facing the unknown.

In the end, he went to the people who mattered most – the students – and asked what he should do. The school chose eviction and everyone together – students, teachers, and a small intern – worked together to procure space and finances to build new classrooms.

Today the school has graduated over 100 girls, educates 120 more every year, has graduates attending university, and more important is a symbol of hope, change, and locally driven development in Kibera. The habits of self-reflection, mission-driven evaluation remain a core focus of the school. While organizationally the school is learning, growing – its continual focus on remaining dedicated to its original purpose of providing free secondary education for girls remains a priority.

My lesson: Remaining true to your mission is crucial and worth the challenges. This is as true as an evaluator as it is for organizations.

What lessons have you learned through your work as an evaluator or working with organizations? What are some of your personal mantras when you’re working in evaluation?

Abdul Kassim: Real Change Requires Listening

*Many thanks to Ann Emery, Chris Lysy, and Karen Anderson for encouragement in getting this blog going!