How Do I Get More 'Evaluation' Experience?: Here are 3 Ways
'If only we could be part of the action on the inside!'
I get asked this question a lot from professionals within the development space.
Some persons have no formal training in Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), but have managed projects and know they are competent in M&E tasks. However, they face a stonewall with prospective employers or clients who want to see either credentials in M&E or a job title that explicitly says 'M&E'.
Other persons have the certificates in M&E and the 'right' job title, but they have done more 'monitoring ' than 'evaluation'.
Then there are the persons who have the M&E credentials but no job experience.
Irrespective of which category you fall in, here are a few concrete things you can do to gain more experience in conducting evaluations.
1.Give your services (almost) for free
'Wait, say what!'
Yes, you read the heading correctly. A great way to gain experience is to become an apprentice to an established evaluator. Joining forces with a seasoned practitioner will strengthen your team if you bid on a contract. If you secure the consultancy, you can also learn from the senior evaluator.
If you have regular employment, once an evaluation is being done by an external colleague, approach them and offer to provide assistance.
Be very open and transparent about your motives. Explain your situation that you are keen to gain more experience conducting evaluations and as such, you are willing to offer your services for free (or with a stipend to cover transportation costs etc.). This is what will sweeten the pot for an established evaluator to even look your way.
Believe me, the really sought after evaluators tend to have more work than they can handle. Sometimes they have to turn down work due to lack of affordable (wo)manpower. As such, they are willing to accept help if the extra set of hands is not going to eat through their bottomline. If you are serious about gaining evaluation experience, swallow your pride and volunteer your services.
2. Build relationships
Maybe you are thinking that you don't know of any evaluators who would even be willing to take you onboard. This is where growing your network comes in.
Connect with evaluation professionals that you admire. I definitely recommend that you become a member of your national/regional evaluation society or association. Not only does this give you credibility (eventually), but it is good for networking and for keeping abreast of the developments in your local context.
People can smell fake from a mile, so be genuine and authentic in your interactions with the person you are interested in. Has the person you admire written a book or published an article? Buy it and actually read it before reaching out to them. Is the person on social media? Instead of lurking in the shadows, actually engage with the content. Go beyond just clicking 'Like'. Leave an insightful comment, re-share/retweet and tag the author. Few people take the effort to do these two things, so trust me, you do this a few times and you will be noticed by the evaluator.
There are persons who have done this with me throughout the years and I now consider them a part of my 'tribe'. I know them by name and anytime they reach out to me with a query or for assistance I try my best to help them because I feel connected.
Do not underestimate the power of an online connection. People are more inclined to respond favourably to you if you build a rapport online with them beforehand. This is much more effective that contacting someone out the blue asking them for a favour. Just like the adage says, 'seek a friend before you need a friend', remember to 'give, before you ask'. Giving is as simple as re-sharing content.
All the advice I am giving I did myself. Nowadays when I reach out to invite someone to speak at my events or be a guest on my webinar or collaborate on an evaluation assignment, 9 out of 10 times they say yes (and the 1 time it is a 'no' it is because they are unavailable on the dates). They support me because of how I have genuinely supported them over the years. Once again, 'give before you ask'.
3. Go above and beyond
If you are fortunate to become an understudy to an evaluator. Put your best foot forward and do a great job. Give your best so that the evaluator (and also the client or your supervisor) can engage or recommend you for other tasks. Soon enough you will be able to take off your training wheels (the senior evaluator) and ride independently setting your own fees and terms.
Join my M&E Academy for more 'insider' tips and resources.