Humble Evaluations: the evaluator role and attitude in Participatory Evaluation

by Silva Ferretti

The stereotype evaluator is an expert. S/he can capture, scientifically, what doesn’t work in a program. S/he can provide wise recommendations to fix issues… and manager shall respond to them! It is a position of professional authority.

The whole evaluation system pushes evaluators and their commissioner to conform to this stereotype. It seems convenient that, at some point in time, the expert can come in, validate a program and provide the right recommendations and solutions to improve it.

We might delude ourselves by sticking to this stereotype. The world is much more complex, and challenges and solutions much messier than what is written in the manuals. In this context, humility might be a better option than expertise. After all, if people who have been working on an issue for a long time -, with a much better understanding of the context did not find a good solution… – how could an external evaluator do so in the short term allowed?

Humble evaluations recognize that external expertise and status might get in the way. A humble, inquisitive, facilitative stance can go a long way.

Finding the “missing pieces” of the puzzle, by bringing, in the same place, the views and ideas of different actors.


Helping to articulate and systematize reality better, reframe concerns and options, so that people can have a better map on which to find solutions.


Creating spaces, alongside the process, for people to be exposed and make sense of evidence.


Sharing ideas about things that worked elsewhere (but more as “conversation starters” -to be discussed and eventually adapted- rather than as optimal pre-set solutions).


Capturing locally developed ideas, lessons (they are often are unnoticed and undervalued whilst, if shared, they could be better used and adapted).


A humble evaluation then helps to face new challenges.

Explore the rich world amongst “problems” and “solutions”… which is world of learning and possibilities that suddenly disappears when we jump to quickly to recommendations.


Make people more confident, by recognizing that change is about trial and error, and there is no expert who has the right solution in the pocket… and by never giving for granted (and always celebrating!) what could be achieved.

Unleash the creativity and the collective intelligence of the people consulted: they (not the external expert!) are best positioned to find a way forward.


The stance of “Evaluator as The Expert” most often is not the best one. Rather than thriving on this authority and expertise, there are many advantages in professing humility. But there are challenges in doing so, as the system operates –by default– on expert mode. Both commissioners and program stakeholders have set expectations on the evaluation role and expertise. Humble evaluations challenge them deeply.

    • The evaluator is a facilitator, not an expert. This dramatically transform power, dynamics, engagement.
    • Trials and errors as well as locally developed options are treasured and shared -rather than emphasizing externally imposed models “by the book”. Evaluation and management shall than be essentially about learning and improvement, not about adherence to the blueprint.
    • Clear-cut recommendations cannot be provided by external experts. What matters is to give space to programme stakeholders to make sense of their context, to reframe challenges, to identify possibilities.

A humble evaluator has not the last word. Expertise is not shown off, but used to make other’s people knowledge and experience shine.

A humble evaluator needs to work hard in the background, to give the floor to the true protagonists of change. And, in doing this, s/he also often has an additional challenge: going against the flow, because of the existing expectations on the evaluator’s role.

One thought on “Humble Evaluations: the evaluator role and attitude in Participatory Evaluation

  1. tothecoreofthings says:

    Congratulations for the post. I am an activist in my free time where we use other words for facilitating knowledge awareness, exchanges and evaluation…I’ve always found that the words “mediator”, “facilitator” and sometimes “arbitrator” fit much better our work (even when implementing pure accountability items of evaluations)…and actually I find that using those terms from the kick-off onwards reduce the distance from the people to the consultants but also from the consultants to the people.

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