Sunday, February 5, 2017

Education and Evaluation in Africa: Some Ethical and Practical Considerations

Rationale by Joel Samoff

Our focus is on evaluations and, particularly, their role in the foreign aid environment. External funders nearly always require evaluations of their support and the trend has been toward larger and more complex evaluations. A common claim is that to be useful, evaluations must assess impact and most often must do so through a randomized control trial. Our goal is to use the conference setting to push the critical reflections on evaluation and as we do so to consider the roles that evaluations play and do not play in external support directed to Africa. In the spirit of an evaluative inspection of the dominant paradigm in evaluations, our key argument herein is that data is far more prominent than both policy and practice, albeit the rhetoric ‘data-driven policy and practice’.
In Capturing Complexity and Context: Evaluating Aid to Education, Samoff, Leer, and Reddy state that,[1]

We found little evidence of direct use for most evaluations, beyond justifying decisions taken by funding agencies, and very little use by aid recipients. We concluded that rather than looking for a standard evaluation approach and method, funding and technical assistance agencies need a portfolio of evaluation strategies that can be tailored to particular circumstances. We also argued the importance of greater focus on the evaluation needs of aid recipients, and we explained why we think impact assessments with randomized controlled trials have a limited role. 

The Results Framework and M&E Guidance Note (World Bank 2013) describes Result-based monitoring and evaluation (M&E) as “a management tool used to systematically track progress of project implementation, demonstrate results on the ground, and assess whether changes to the project design are needed to take into account evolving circumstances.” It further claims that,

The results framework has three main elements: (a) a statement of the project development objectives (PDO); (b) a set of indicators to measure outcomes that are linked to the PDO and a set of intermediate results to track progress toward achieving outcomes; and (c) M&E arrangements specifying clear units of measurement for each indicator, baselines, annual and final targets for each indicator as well as the roles and responsibilities for collecting, reporting, and analyzing data on those indicators.

My Reflections/Argument

I would like to point you to my argument about evaluations of aid and any so-called development projects. Since evaluations are based on theories (deriving from the social sciences and humanities) of organizational change often clustered into endogenous, exogenous, and cosmopolitan or hybrid, I am concerned about the inherent theoretic-philosophical manifestations that inform and shape evaluations as well as the consequent ethical implications to any attempt at equitable participation. The delusional nature of evaluations in a modernist-postmodernistic era lies in its very epistemological assumption that it is not epistemologically biased or that such bias can be diluted/undermined, magically, by the infusion of words assumed universal through a positivistic orientation. As such, the dominant epistemic trends in evaluations are based on false premises that assumptions about development and progress are measurable beyond incommensurability. There is also a strong utilitarian and functionalist tendency in evaluations that rally around returns to investment, usefulness of aid in fostering the so-called development, and the molding of recipient communities into functional communities.

As such, the inherent philosophical conundrum can be laid out as ontological incommensurability, which I describe as ‘aid as business transaction’ versus ‘aid as humanitarian action’; epistemological incommensurability, described as ‘aid as measurable’ versus ‘aid as immeasurable’; and, axiological incommensurability, described as ‘aid as mutually good or beneficial’ versus ‘aid as partially good/beneficial’ versus ‘aid as good/bad’.

Moreover, with present-day evaluation, there is not only an issue of core indicators and cognitive power relations, but there is also an issue of the interlocking of three powers that I have designated as monetary and hermeneutical and informational power,[2] which reflect a unilateral and linear relationship between the agencies seeking evaluation and the aid recipients. These three powers are interconnected in that the monetary power is a vehicle that grants some agencies the privileged position of commissioning evaluations, thus filtering what core indicators really matter; the hermeneutical power springs from the fact that these core indicators are often generated from the perspective and knowledge-sphere of the donor agencies; and, the informational is a banking tool that allows the perpetuation of hermeneutical and monetary power (through expertise).

An additional category of power that is evident is manipulative power (encompassing submission and power PLUS image and power) in which I have developed a logical configuration of a relationship characterized by semi-voluntary submission as follows:[3]
  • A perceives B to possess a good that is indispensable for A’s survival
  • Aware of this perception, B imposes conditions on A to fulfill in order to acquire the good
  • A accepts the conditions, unconditionally, and opts to strip of personal power to will
  • Aware of the extent to which A is willing to give up personal power to will, B figures out creative ways to perpetuate a position of power over A
  • Unaware of the implications of B’s position, A consents to this perpetuation of B’s power

These points I have highlighted as a point of reflection, also link to other issues that call for critical reflection, such as:
  • The argument of usefulness through impact [ultimately, ‘The proliferation and preeminence of impact evaluations’]
  • The role that evaluations play in support directed to Africa
  • The role that evaluations do not play in support directed to Africa
  • The educational implications that this reflection might have on education



[1] Samoff, J., Leer, J., & Reddy, M. (2016). Capturing Complexity and Context: Evaluating Aid to Education. Expertgruppen för biståndsanalys, EBA. Available: Here
[2] Cossa, J. (2008). Power, Politics, and Higher Education in Southern Africa: International Regimes, Local Governments, and Educational Autonomy. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.
[3] Ibid. In this configuration, read A as recipient entity and B as donor entity.
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