Taking a Long View: My Path to Becoming an Evaluation Professional

Taking a Long View: My Path to Becoming an Evaluation Professional

By Emily Weaver, PhD, MEASURE Evaluation

Emily Weaver

As my colleagues and I attended the opening plenary of the American Evaluation Conference, Evaluation2019, I was struck by the opening quote by Maya Angelou, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” This reflection is salient to me for many reasons, one of which is that it set me on the path to become an evaluation professional.

I want to use evaluation as a learning platform on which to build an evidence base of applied research to inform programming that will improve health. As I attended sessions at this year’s conference and presented my work on two projects—MEASURE Evaluation and Data for Impact (D4I), I was aware of the power of our projects to do just that.

During my first panel presentation on the use of routine health information system (RHIS) data in evaluation, my colleagues and I shared lessons learned from the last five years of MEASURE Evaluation and how we are building on that work in the Data for Impact (D4I) project, both projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). RHIS can provide a wealth of data over time and from a large number of health facilities. But—there’s a drawback—these data also pose challenges in data quality, completeness, and internal validity, among other issues.

As we ended the session, an audience member commented that she had faced some of the same issues using RHIS during her work in international health about 10 years ago. I thought, “Yes, evaluation is like that—often slow to show progress.”

In fact, the opening plenary also mentioned this issue, likening work in evaluation to a marathon (not a sprint). But as we continue to strengthen health information systems, through D4I and other projects, knowing where we have been helps us to focus our goals and aim for a future where RHIS data are a strong source of evaluating what works.

And so as we move forward, working on D4I to support countries to realize the power of data as evidence that can improve programs, policies, and health outcomes, these opportunities to share our experiences and our work will continue to be an important part of our growth as a project and as evaluation professionals: building on where we’ve been, focusing on where we’re going, and holding on to the common goal of improving health through our work.