Hello world

Hello world. That’s the standard start, isn’t it?

It’s always hard to kick things off. There are hundreds of guides on ‘how to write a punchy blog’ and ‘power signposting’ and other such jargony things that were ironically painful to read, so I am just going to roll with it if you’re willing to roll with me.

Funnily enough that’s a large theme of my work and this site: moving away from standard jargon and doing things a bit differently, and more intuitively. More on that later.

As you may have seen on my About page, my name is Niki and I work as Head of Evaluation in my organisation (all views expressed here are my own). I have worked in international evaluation most of my career, with a brief caveat to the domestic, from both the public and private sector lens.

I’ve long been an evaluation enthusiast as I genuinely cannot imagine a more interesting job than being a professional story-teller. My job allows me to help teams shape what change they want to bring about, trace whether that change is occurring, and then tell the story of that change (or learn from when it didn’t come to fruition). It has taken me all over the world: from Dushanbe to Dar es Salaam to Washington DC.

Freetown. 2019.

I love all things Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL), but what I haven’t loved is some of the more traditional methods that I see still being used in multitude. My programme teams are so familiar with my homage to Patricia Rodgers here that they groan endearingly, but we cannot keep applying simple ‘solutions’ to complex problems. It just does not work anymore and I am tired of programmes bean counting instead of assessing if a community feels safe, or whether market systems are functioning. Whether working internationally or domestically we are operating in the domain of the complex, and simply have to use approaches that can work with uncertainty, and adapt as change emerges (whatever form it may take).

There are exciting alternatives being developed and I’ve been fortunate to have either worked with those who have developed them, or to be at the forefront of their development myself. I’ve been slowly integrating different ways of doing things into my MEL work over the past few years and have developed a style and approach that is bespokely Niki Wood. Without meaning to toot my own horn: it’s been going down well with programme teams and thought leaders alike.

I wanted to address the age-old concerns of not being able to marry accessibility with representation of complexity, or accountability with adaptivity, and show that these can be met reasonably. I wanted to show SROs that they can have meaningful, complex change evidenced beyond raw numbers, in ways that can still be depicted in, say, a LogFrame or Theory of Change. To show programme teams that they needn’t be scared of MEL, and that it can be fun (!). To develop participatory approaches that feel empowering and encourage a sense of ownership, and to develop training that helps people feel confident. I feel I have tackled many of these in my ambition to do better, but there is always room to develop, learn, and improve… and there is always a new challenge to take on.

Creating a symbiotic relationship between a behavioural systems map and a theory of change. Systems Thinking Interest Group. 2020.

I’m here with this site because I wanted to share my thinking more broadly with the community and help others access some different ways of doing things. I was prompted to do this because – quite rightly – colleagues in the OECD and academia wanted to share my thinking and I had managed to do absolutely nothing about hosting it anywhere accessible beyond musings in my OneNote (the perils of being busy at work!). However, I’m also doing so to start a dialogue and to share resources in this increasingly digital world we are living in. Most importantly, I’m doing this in case someone finds this helpful in their work. In case someone is where I was, six years ago, trying to find a better way to understand whether change has occurred than just counting how many people rock up to a workshop.

So this is my scene-setting. I’m passionate about better ways of doing things and shall continue to post my thoughts and ideas here on MEL (all examples referred to will be fictitious but based on experience).

I invite you: please, interact. Read my posts, share your thoughts with me. Use the tools, let me know how you got on. Try out an approach and tell me if it felt comfortable, or what didn’t work for you. See what you think of the other thinkers I will point you to, and please challenge my thinking. I really welcome it. I’m fortunate to have a sandbox of projects to be trialling things on but I always welcome input from the development community. All I ask is that if you do use something I have developed, please credit me and link to this site – intellectual property is important in this day and age.

Thanks for reading this far; I hope you find my musings and ideas helpful.

Published by Niki Wood

Evaluation enthusiast sharing tools, ideas, and musings.

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