For its 25th anniversary that took place in Tunis, Tunisia, on 3-6 December, 2012 the Operations Evaluation Department (OPEV) of the African Development Bank (AfDB) launched an essay contest on evaluation in Africa. The topic of the essay was "Real world African evaluations in Africa that made a difference". We meet with winner Sylvia Apreku. Interview.
You submitted a research paper titled "Methods to Tailor Evaluation Tools to an African context" that was selected as the best submission. Tell us a little bit about it!
I have 14 years of work experience. I have mainly worked in the public sector and institutional capacity development programs. I chose to participate in this essay contest because I wanted an opportunity to share my reflections and experiences with managing such projects. I have worked on many projects, but the one I chose to write about was in my view the most telling in terms of the evaluation findings. The project was a strategy and policy monitoring project in the Presidential Office of Sierra Leone. The project was looking at issues of institutional capacity development, some of the trickiest projects to evaluate. What made it exciting for me was realizing the amount of institutional conflicts which existed within the whole set up of the public service and understanding the reasons to them. My findings helped fix these problems in the sense that I concluded that we should really not continue implementing institutional capacity development as a project or in a project form. But it should really be institutionalized within the whole civil service structure in terms of the mandates, pay scales and the reforms. The government at hand should be able to pay the advisors who are mainly going to focus on policy and program implementation on the countries program for change.
When you speak about tailoring monitoring and evaluation specifically to an African context, how does it differ from tailoring it to a European or Latin American or Asian context?
Public institutions in Africa are by and large very weak. Given the time-consuming and costly nature of evaluation, how do we really help African governments implement sustainable and effective evaluations? That's one of the areas where we have to contextualize this and recognize that public institutions are weak. This affects their administrative technical capacities to carry out evaluations.
Another factor relates to the organizational culture, gathering, using and measuring results. So, when we talk about contextualizing within an African context, we have to look at the ability to bring African institutions to the level where they can manage the evaluation themselves and fund it. It was a UNDP-funded project, and usually the expectation is that the donor will fund the project. However, in this case, the government itself co-funded 50 percent. That was actually a very exciting step forward. Most governments do not even demand evaluations, let alone use evaluation findings. But here, the demand for the evaluation actually came from the high office. The need to use the recommendations from the findings was also demanded for by the President himself along with an implementation plan for the recommendations, which he approved.
So, you've actually had a very successful monitoring and evaluation experience. How do you perceive the presentations and the work you witnessed at the African Development Bank's Evaluation Week?
I found it very innovative for the AfDB to set out an evaluation week to reflect on evaluation and look at the way forward. I have worked with a number of organizations and we do not commonly do this. One of my recommendations was that, if it were possible, we should emulate and replicate this evaluation week at all levels, even at the lowest level possible. So that a given committee can just choose a project which is very close to it, set up the same process and take the time to reflect and evaluate itself, perhaps without using very complicated tools. They just need to sit together as a committee through this exercise. In this way, if the local communities can understand--without the jargon of evaluation-- the need to hold the government accountable, this can also go a long way to making government offices more alert. So, the AfDB's focus on this and the institutionalization of OPEV are very positive steps forward. In my opinion, strengthening public institutions holds the key to Africa's renaissance and its social and economic development, particularly the need to rethink and enforce institutional capacity development strategies that focus on issues of effects, integrity, values and attitudes in the public service.
Sylvia Apreku's passion for development policy and planning, as well as project management with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa attracted her to enroll in the Masters in Development Economics Programme at Dalhousie University in Canada. Since completing Dalhousie University in 2003, she has been involved in various development policy and public sector reform management initiatives aimed at improving public service delivery and contributing towards poverty reduction across Eastern, Southern and Western Africa. Her contribution has been through designing and managing long term and sustainable development approaches and programs.
Over the period, she has served as a Local Governance advisor with the Netherlands Development organization (SNV) in Zimbabwe. She also worked as a Program officer in the Public Sector Reform section of UNDP Sierra Leone. With the UNDP she managed the execution of large projects in a post-conflict context, including the Diaspora project, the Public Sector Reform Support and the Strategy and Policy Unit project. She also served as an independent consultant, leading a team responsible for designing and elaborating NEPAD Rwanda's vision and strategy. Apreku also designed two Area development programs for World Vision Rwanda. She is currently managing the Public Sector Reform and Institutional Capacity Development Project with UNDP in The Gambia.