Growing up I loved history and social studies. Coming from a family of history buffs (my grandfather has stacks and stacks of military history books in his house and my father once penned an unpublished murder mystery set during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge), I loved learning about and imaging the past. Today I still love nothing more than roaming old ruins or cities, imaging the day to day life – the clothes, shouts, colors of a by-gone era. Thanks to an amazing AP US History teacher in high school, I fell in love with the Guilded Age and Progressive Era following it – especially those fierce muckrakers who took pen to paper to uncover and publicize society’s injustices. Perhaps having always been bookish and quieter, I can more easily imagine and identify with those muckrakers of old – many of whom never claimed fame or fortune, but used what talent they had to work for the common good.
These muckrakers come to mind as I work on different projects here in Ghana. My evaluation experience has given the skills and training to look critically at programs, my past experiences internationally and my mentorship with great leaders and thinkers like Abdul Kassim at KGSA and Karen Boatman at Boston University have helped me to learn to analyze and break things down. My belief that through working and learning together, hard work, a lot of experimentation, and hope has also helped me to believe that we can build things up, we can create positive change, even if it is a long time coming. ..
A challenge for evaluators, both internal and external, is how much of a muckraker to be – how honest an answer is your client or organization looking for? And the self-doubt is there, as is the knowledge that there is no sure way forward, everything is an experiment of sorts. Is it better for an organization to pour money into cataract outreach if no one is tracking complication rates? Would it be better to expend more to train surgeons or screening personnel, or invest more heavily in monitoring and evaluation? Is anything better than nothing, even if the “anything” may bring its own set of challenges?
There is no easy answer, perhaps there is no answer at all. There are small breakthroughs – demonstrating how visualizing data differently can help with decision making, doing small capacity-building trainings in Excel, touting Anne Emery’s blog (and hoping the wifi here is connected soon so people can access it!). So I continue to struggle if I be a muckracker or a simple blogger, the sun shines bright here in Kumasi, the children shout “Obruni, Obruni how are you?” as we walk to and fro from the hospital, and there is the feeling of the rhythm and flow and feeling that there is work here and it is good…