The South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA) held its 5th biennial conference in Johannesburg from the 12th to the 16th of October 2015. It was a pleasure to attend a fantastic, jam-packed event, filled with training workshops, discussions on innovative evaluation approaches and techniques, and spirited debate on key issues in evaluation and the direction of the profession in Africa.
This year’s SAMEA conference succeeded previous attendance records, reflecting a high level of vibrancy and engagement from evaluation practitioners and stakeholders across the spectrum, including all levels of government, civil society and the private sector. In attendance were colleagues from all over the continent, from Ghana to Uganda, as well as speakers and trainers from further abroad.
Celebrating 2015 as the ‘International Year of Evaluation’, the pertinent theme of this year’s conference was ‘Using evaluation to improve people’s lives’, speaking to the heart of the profession as being one with clear values, and a thoughtful commitment to using our work to achieve true social betterment. Passion for the transformative capacity of evaluation was tangible, not only in every plenary, keynote, workshop and discussion, but also in the conversations over lunch and tea breaks among experienced and emerging practitioners alike.
Along these lines, a strong theme throughout the week was that of further incorporating citizen voices into evaluation. A number of civil society organisations presented their excellent, leading-edge work and successes with social audits and citizen-based monitoring. There were also some fantastic examples from local government, demonstrating some of the work they are doing in this area.
Particularly thought-provoking were the debates over the professionalisation of evaluation, raising questions around the effect this would have on inclusion into the profession, standards for education and ethical codes. There was also much discussion and support for the strengthening of a uniquely African evaluation practice, and for African evaluators to work proudly from their cultural and geographic standpoint, moving away from reliance on imported methodologies and norms in evaluation.
In all, a big congratulations to the organisers for a successful and inspiring conference. We also extend a big thanks to SAMEA for its generous Emerging Evaluators programme, enabling early-career evaluators to attend the conference and deepen their engagement, knowledge and networks in the evaluation sphere. We look forward to the next one!
By Kate Welsh