From March 13 to March 15, 2019, three members of the MEL Activity participated in the 9th African Evaluation Association International Conference 2019 Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

The Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Activity attended the 9th African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) conference between March 13-15, 2019 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The conference is the premier event in the African Evaluation sector and acts as the foundation for promoting and advocating the Association’s “Made in Africa” approach. It allows knowledge sharing, collaboration and networking with a wide range of international organizations and individuals. This year’s conference theme was, “Accelerating Africa’s Development: Strengthening National Evaluation Ecosystems.” Attendees from the MEL Activity included: Samuel Gyang, Senior Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist for Analysis; Olufolake Akeju, Senior Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist for Health; Mukhtar Ijaiya, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist for Health.

The poster titles that the MEL Specialist presented on were: “The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Nigeria’s MEL Activity Model”; “Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Challenge Tuberculosis (CTB) Nigeria Intervention in Strengthening the Health System Response for TB Control”; and “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Promoting the Quality of Medicines (PQM)’s Technical Assistance (TA) in the Strengthening of Medicines Regulatory Quality Assurance (QA) Systems in Nigeria.” The MEL Activity staff attended the various conference sessions, while presenting their posters and answering attendees’ questions on the posters’ content between sessions

Dr. Folake Akeju, who attended the health-related sessions of the conference, which made up the largest portion of the conference, said it made her more aware of different kinds of research that people in our field are doing in the health sector. One aspect that was particularly interesting was the different evaluation methods for health projects, such as the “most significant change theory” methodology for family planning intervention, which has typically been viewed as an unconventional methodology. Folake cited the experience as a great way to meet different people from different countries, hear about their work – “the exposure was really great.” She also met a lot of Nigerians and got a chance to see a more in-depth view of the work going on in her own country.

Fellow MEL Specialist Mukhtar Ijaiya agreed – learning about the different methodologies was one of the most interesting learning aspects at the AfrEA conference. In one of the most interesting sessions, the presenter, an experienced evaluator, spoke about how modern evaluators need to embrace data science, and be systematic about data collection. “With the advent of big data and data scientists – you need to be careful, when you are evaluating, to pay attention to data quality.” He mentioned it was also very interesting to see how posters from other program areas looked at the current situation in the Nigerian context.

MEL Specialist for Analysis Sam Gyang was also excited to learn about the new trends in evaluation – particularly the shift from using small sample sizes to evaluate a project to taking advantage of “big data”, like using satellite images to track road construction process, as one presenter exemplified. Phone calls and social media, “human generated big data” as Sam specified, shows an exciting future for evaluation. The challenge will be how to incorporate data scientists into the evaluation process to produce the most value. Sam went on to quote Dr. Michael Bamberger, a renowned and world class evaluation professional, and key note speaker at the AfrEA conference, “Professional evaluators risk being obsolete and losing relevance without understanding the application of data science to evaluation.”

Participants also got to meet with Dr Zakari Lawal, Director of the M&E department in the Nigerian Ministry of Budget and National Planning, with whom they discussed increasing involvement in the Nigerian Association of Evaluators (NAE)

All three MEL Specialists stated that it would be a great opportunity to attend the preconference workshops if they were to present at the next AfrEA Conference. Their interactions with participants who attended these workshops highlighted how insightful and innovative the presentations were and how the workshops added to their skills and knowledge of managing and conducting evaluations. The team also stressed that they are looking forward to submitting more abstracts, across more sectors, to next year’s conference.

(left to right) Mukhtar Ijaiya, Folake Akeju, Samuel Gyang at the African Evaluation Association Conference

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