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?

Author: jclearfield

My name is Jamie Clearfield and I am learning and exploring the worlds of evaluation and non-profits. My experiences have taken me from Boston and Pittsburgh to across East Africa, learning and sharing wherever possible. This blog is another way to learn, share, discuss, and grow within this field!

4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from the Field Part 2: Build Strong Organizations

  1. Thank you Jamie. Team work is indispensable! Team work is all about “less of me” and “much of we” and moreover Unity is strength. Once again, thank you!

    Fr. Paschal

  2. This is a very important post, especially in the NGO world where you have many local and international organizations attempting to address extremely complex problems. These problems are tough to tackle in and of themselves–weak organizational structures can make it next to impossible! I’ve found that evaluations are not prioritized nor are evaluation results used in organizations that do not regularly engage in the type of planning work that you mention. The real struggle is in building those structures so that evaluation (and monitoring) become accepted (and expected!) practice in the organization. Of course, they shouldn’t become so routine that they lose meaning (which also often happens). I enjoyed coming across your blog–mine is also focused on evaluation and development!

  3. Fr. Pascal, so good to hear from you and glad that you found my blog! Hope all is well in Makondo and that teamwork is still going strong there! I’ll soon have a post up about working in Makondo and the great things you taught me there!

  4. Molly – thanks so much for commenting and glad you found your way here so I can now get to read your blog! Looking forward to reading and sharing thoughts and ideas. Weak organizational structure is something we’ll continue to struggle with but starting the conversation is definitely a great first step.

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