Meet the Evaluator: Lauren Kelly
The Independent Evaluation Group’s Lauren Kelly speaks on the role of the evaluator during the ongoing pandemic – and infodemic.
Lauren is a Lead Evaluation Officer with IEG. When I call her, she is cooped up in her home in New York City and is quick to make reference to events unfolding outside.
“We're having this interview in the middle of a global movement,” says Lauren. “We're facing a tipping point where citizens are deciding how to see and redefine themselves in relation to structural racism and injustice.”
Trends she sees in both her country of origin as well as globally has reignited her sense of purpose as an evaluator.
“There's been movement away from using evidence in policy making. There are so many threats to our public accountability systems. And the more this happens, the more I feel like we have a responsibility to maintain that thrust, to support learning and accountability for our public institutions and citizens.”
Similar to how IEG has stepped up efforts to support operational teams working on the COVID response, by offering lessons from past crises and providing guidance on how to adapt M&E to current circumstances, Lauren believes the evaluation community can step up to explain their role in supporting social justice:
“I think evaluation has a role to play in being a frontline mover when it comes to racism and social injustice, because it's about dispelling myths, separating fact from fiction, it's about, what we do – which is speaking truth to power.”
When asked to elaborate on how independent evaluation is supporting the COVID-19 crisis response, Lauren highlights three examples from the organization she works for, IEG:
While Lauren and her colleagues are busy reconfiguring their work, to provide Bank teams leading the COVID response with relevant insight, she acknowledges the pandemic also as a valuable learning opportunity.
“For me, COVID has been extremely humbling because in Washington, we tend to operate with a frame of certainty. COVID lets us feel what the people we serve feel everyday. It helps us to better understand what it feels like to live – and to make decisions – under conditions of uncertainty,” she says.
Lauren is keen to engage stakeholders in evaluating projects. As a champion for participatory methods she proposes we make use of the pandemic as a pause, to distill more out of the data previously collected on the ground:
“We have rich information in the form of photographs, drone footage, videos and transcripts from hundreds of interviews conducted in the Sahel and in the remote rangelands of Mongolia. COVID provides a pause – to reflect on what these voices mean – and to find ways to elevate them into the global public domain.”
She finds that COVID also forces evaluators to become more creative.
“Gone are the days when folks could just hit the ground running with a 4x4… and frankly, I’m thankful for that. COVID is forcing us to innovate,” says Lauren, adding, “I think that’s going to yield dividends for data quality.”
Despite the hope for new methods and quality data, Lauren is cognizant about the multiple challenges and sensitivities that will require careful navigation.
“The trick is ensuring we find ways to reach marginalized people – those without access to technology, those who speak in different dialects – and to make sure their voices are heard, while not putting the people we serve or our local teams at risk. And at the same time, we must be cautious about the burden we are placing on people who are trying to cope with the health and economic impacts of the crisis.”
Listen to the full conversation above to learn more about how independent evaluation is adapting to changing circumstances.
Audio: Shantana Shahid
Art: Luísa Ulhoa