Do you want your evaluation to have influence? Then you need to know your stakeholders - what motivates them and how best to reach them.

As evaluators, we frequently need to understand inherent biases and what is at stake for different parties, quickly build relationships of mutual respect in order to share views and information, and provide often critical findings in ways that allow stakeholders to feel empowered to do better.

Use stakeholder analysis to understand diverse stakeholders with equally diverse motives

Behind any project being evaluated are individuals who are passionate about their work and concerned about getting a fair evaluation. A boss might be worried about the overall performance of her department, and therefore want a good assessment, despite knowing a project had shortcomings. A policy-maker in the client country who did not back agreed reforms because of their political costs, might not be happy with an evaluator asking difficult questions. A CSO representative could see an evaluation as an opportunity to air frustrations, but have unrealistic hopes about the advocacy role evaluation should play. Tools to analyze stakeholders, their concerns, pressures and preferences, help to provide a more structured understanding of diverse groups and their views, and ensure that different perspectives are considered in the evaluation. Force field analysis is also a great way to map out what position stakeholders would take on an issue and how they will engage with the evaluation.

Building a relationship of mutual respect

Trust is more easily established if we can appreciate another person's perspective and understand the work that they care so deeply about. In my experience that means knowing the project really well and reading everything there is on it before meeting the concerned stakeholders. The rapport gets established on professional grounds and knowing the background deepens the conversation about the successes and challenges people had in making the project work. Being impartial, setting aside preconceived views and listening to different perspectives are essential for both the relationship with stakeholders as well as helping evaluators understand the project, its performance and results.

Care to convey difficult messages

All of this prior work – knowing your stakeholders, their hot buttons, and building relationships of mutual respect – provides the foundation for one of the most difficult parts of the evaluators’ job: caring to convey difficult messages in ways that help stakeholders excel and do better. But doesn’t that run the risk that we end up biased rather than independent? That depends very much on whether, as an evaluator, we retain the ability to balance different views and perspectives, corroborate these with data and documentation, and come to a well evidenced, impartial assessment of success and failure – with the ultimate aim that stakeholders can be more successful. 



Thanks carol for sharing this. This is very true. What has worked in my evaluations is that stakeholders are always part of my respondents. There is need to share and validate some of '-ve outcomes" /difficult messages before the final document is circulated.This changes their perspective towards the evaluator and is likely and is seen to be quite objective. Failure to do this may result to stakeholders trashing the results, a lot of defence and resistance etc

In reply to by Anonymous


HI Carol I agree completely. Good prep work in planing for utilisation will get us thinking about stakeholder context, interests and ways to engage them effectively. I often use the Most Significant Change technique which has the benefits to of letting stakeholder voices be heard in their own words, allows the -ve outcomes and positive one to be discussed by stakeholders who come to collective viewpoint. Hence final comments include their perspectives. Using MSC within a participatory Evaluation Summit further involves them in taking a part in the recommendations and validating findings etc

I am an M&E officer at International Organization for Migration, and I am very much interested on evaluation, and I would like to specialize on that, so please keep me in the loop.

Evaluation is about assessing the achievement of results, and understanding "why". And we cannot do this without engaging the different stakeholders who have been involved in programme activities. Evaluation is inevitably judgmental, and - as such - it may hurt. It is really important that we reduce the bias which is inherent in our being human (before evaluators) by cross-checking all the available information, coding all the information collected in interviews almost verbatim (and not as we understood them), and being open to challenge any initial assumption we may have. John Maxwell said that "people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care". I see four elements for success: good planning; a sound methodology and analysis; openness of mind and concern for others; passion for our work and belief in the power of evaluation to contribute to better performance.

A very good, succinct overview regarding how best to involve and gain important input from stakeholders, for the evaluation of development projects in the field or internal projects/initiatives within one's own organization. The evaluator or evaluation team must gain the respect of those stakeholders by practice in an "honest broker and objective" stature - consistently.

Many thanks to all of you for your terrific comments. Caroline

Thank you for sharing this article. It has really broaden my perception on the importance of engaging stakeholders!

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