Development evaluators, make blogging part of your workstyle!



I do not know whether this is really ‘an NGO trend’, as the GUARDIAN calls it, to send bloggers to the field to write on organisation’s projects (Blogging from Bangladesh-more poverty tourism?), but Heather Armstrong’s reflections and Tom Murphy’s additional thoughts on the subject are interesting reads. But engaging with bloggers and social media more broadly should not just be seen as an exercise for fundraising and communication, but should also become part of real evaluations of the big donor and implementing organisations outside the NGO sector.
As it is often not paid, looks at bit as the blogger’s answer to some form of journalistic voluntourism. There may be benefits for NGOs, as Tom points out, but I’m more concerned about the (non-NGO) evaluation ‘industry’ and why most official evaluations are light-years away from being more transparent, participatory and accessible. Whereas the blogger can travel to the field on her own expenses, maybe in few months time an official ‘mission’ will travel to a similar project – with paid flights, daily allowances and an official mandate only to produce another of these infamous 20-30 page reports’ and a ‘presentation to staff at headquarters’. In short, why are so many parts of the development industry still so far away from using social media (not just blogging, but any format that collects, discusses and shares findings slightly differently) officially? Even as critical voices are emerging that (rightly) question the power and influence of bloggers and blogging, this is not simply a question about a tool or software, but more importantly about the prevailing mindsets. Why does it seem so ridiculous if a donor-funded project instead of spending a lot of time on quarterly reports maintains a blog instead? Why is a lengthy report with numerous attachments still regarded as the norm if a 20 minute documentary could also deliver interesting insights into the progress of a project? Yes, if a project is funded through the taxpayer’s money there needs to be a proper paper trail and development projects are only one small part of the bureaucratic machinery of government, but that is not good enough of an argument; most evaluation reports are not available in the public domain and once they went through numerous feedback loops and are polished and published they are often close to being meaningless. I do not mean that every ‘development blogger’ should automatically be treated as a professional evaluator – but, why, for example, is their not much teaming-up going on? I have written about my curiosity for qualitative data a couple of times before (e.g. with regards to the openaid debate, on new forms of postgraduate teaching and learning or on evaluation and peacebuilding) and, yes, I am an anthropological development researcher, but would it not be fascinating to compare the results of how an evaluator evaluates and how a blogger blogs about the process? Why does it seem so unimaginable that, say, the EU introduces new genres of evaluation alongside traditional reports of its ECHO-funded projects? I strongly believe that if bloggers in the field are given a purpose beyond communication and evaluators are encouraged/forced to think more ‘2.0’ we would see amazing, creative examples of how ‘results’ can be discussed, perceptions are challenged and genuinely better evaluations would be produced. If one donor or organisation would ‘upgrade’ blogging from ‘random thoughts and critique’ it would also add a new layer to the discussion about blogging and ‘impact’. ‘The diary of the xyz project evaluation’ alongside more conventional ways of sharing findings would be a fascinating exercise – bold, transparent, engaging with complexity and the sometimes murky realities in which development operates. Imagine a conventional evaluator, a development blogger and a local blogger would write and share independently their views, findings and impressions throughout the process and create a holistic experience for everybody involved. And once we have achieved this on the project level, we can then move on to the inside of organisations where bloggers could stimulate all sorts of discussions outside the realm of staff meetings, assessment missions and filing away ’20-30 page’ evaluation reports...

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