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Reflections from the World’s First Blue Marble Evaluator

This reflection is an excerpt from the book, Blue Marble Evaluation: Premises and Principles:

Being the first-ever Blue Marble Evaluator and doing so with the Global Alliance for the Future of Food is an honor. I could tell you a million things about this, but for now I want to share two personal views that I hope may contribute to better understanding and framing Blue Marble evaluation.

In my Ph.D., I tried to understand how impact evaluation was being done in the European Commission (EC) programs, then considering the extent to which systems concepts and methods might overcome some of the limitations I found. My main concern was that, in order to assess the impacts of programs implemented all across the  European Union (EU), a set of indicators were being quantified at each Member State level, and then those were being added up at the EU level. At the same time, discussions around how to evaluate the Sustainable Development Goals were following the same “monitoring-focused path.” This narrow approach did not seem to me to  take advantage of the wealth of evaluation approaches and resources that have been developed. I felt that the lenses being using to make sense of and evaluate these interventions were not allowing evaluators to contribute all we could. We were, as I wrote in one of my papers on the EC programs, enclosed in evaluation “as a legal requirement instead of as the opportunity to make policy development more transparent, to implement better programs and to use public money to make a difference to people’s lives.” I quickly came to see Blue Marble evaluation as a way to address these concerns and limitations. This is what appealed to me the most at my entry point to Blue Marble evaluation.

When first introduced to the idea of Blue Marble evaluation, I thought it probably meant developing fancy computer-based simulation models about global systems. It took me a while to understand that the point is not tools — and never was. The point is how we look at and make sense of global interventions, how we understand the role that evaluation should play, how we pose meaningful questions that help to critically assess potential improvements, how we understand the ways in which interventions are interrelated with each other and with broader contexts, how different stakeholders understand the same thing in many different ways, how boundaries matter, and how it all affects our profession and our contribution to improving the world we live in, from the smallest to the largest interventions and evaluations. It is all about the lenses we use,  first to understand, then to evaluate. This was the biggest breakthrough of Blue Marble evaluation for me, that it has changed how I look at interventions, evaluation, and our world, all together.

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