The workshop "Communicating Evaluation Results" took place on 12 October 2012 in London, United Kingdom. It was co-organised by DevCom, the Informal Network of DAC Development Communication, and DFID, the UK Department of International Development, in collaboration with the DAC Network on Development Evaluation (EvalNet).
Interest in evaluation is rising in the context of growing accountability pressures to demonstrate the achievements and impact of development assistance to the wider public in donor countries and other stakeholder groups. Better informed citizenry could help strengthen public support for development. Donors must be strategic about results reporting and communication, ensure a clear communication plan and integrate it into their planning and budget. They need to explain organisational value and achievements and highlight in a dynamic way the impact of their actions. There is also a growing realisation that development evaluation – and associated communication products – should ideally be owned and driven by partner countries themselves.
Challenges remain around communicating evaluative evidence. The tension between evaluation and communication functions is not new. Evaluation experts often perceive communication efforts and "people stories" as pure PR and a threat to the independence and authenticity of their work. At the same time, they recognise a growing need for the better communication of evaluation results in order to get messages across to policy makers and increase useful outcomes for concerned stakeholders. Going beyond the numbers can yield a better understanding of evaluations by a wider audience.
On the other hand, communication experts often perceive results/evaluation reports as too technical and not well-suited for communicating with various audiences. Evidence can be weak and language difficult to understand. In contemporary development communication, hard facts and figures are no longer optional – high-quality data is compulsory. Yet communicators are struggling to obtain evidence to convey stories about progress. In the context of a shift from inputs and money spent to focus on outcomes and impact, communicators are trying to demonstrate results on the ground. They describe “getting results” - or highlighting the impact of donor’s achievements - as a particularly difficult task, since results/evaluation reports do not necessarily provide that type of information. The objective is to turn statistics of progress into powerful human stories, better connecting and engaging with the audience. In this exercise, the data and the emotional/personal side of stories should not be seen as competing but rather as completing the picture of
progress in development. Communicating about negative results remains a challenge too, but it gains more and more importance in times of increased transparency and accountability. Admitting failure bears a risk of losing supporters, but it presents an opportunity to demonstrate integrity, organisational learning and innovation.
A collaborative approach to understanding and addressing these issues of mutual interest is needed. Co-operation between communication and evaluation experts can be challenging – with each group’s own priorities – but it is important to seek synergies and opportunities for mutual learning. The workshop Communicating Evaluation Results” will benefit from the specific skills of both communities, bringing their experience to the table and creating international dialogue around a better communication of evaluation findings. Evaluation and communication experts will share independently their views, experiences and findings and create a holistic experience for everybody involved in results communication.
Moreover, a proper consideration needs to be given to evaluating communication strategies and activities. Some questions that communicators often raise in this regards are: How do you measure impact and effectiveness of communication efforts? How you define success of communications? How do you measure communications at the operational level and at the global level (i.e. increased public awareness)? Strategies and tools for monitoring and measurement of development communications’ impact need to be further discussed at the forum.
In the run up to the workshop, a background study examining the current state of how communicators and evaluators communicate results and evidence from evaluations was prepared by Peter da Costa, a development policy and strategic communication specialist. The second potential scope of the study would be monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness and impact of communication strategies and efforts. A survey among members of communication and evaluation communities was carried out. As a result, good practices were identified and constituted a discussion paper for the workshop aiming at creating a forum where communication and evaluation experts can share experiences in using research and evidence from evaluation.