Recommendations…to co-create and or not to co-create?

Utility-focused evaluation, an Itad mantra… because if the findings we produce aren’t being used then why are we doing what we do? As part of our efforts to make our work more useful for donors, implementing organisations and, ultimately, the people we’re trying to help, we are increasingly adopting a co-creation approach to the ‘recommendations’ aspect of our evaluations. ‘Co-creation’ involves working with the end users of evaluations to jointly draft the recommendations and actions, based on the independently collected, analysed and presented findings.

We think that working with the stakeholders at the core of our evaluations to co-create “what now/next” is key to ensuring that what we include in our reports is relevant and actionable to the people who can actually do something about them.

We have used this approach on multiple evaluations, including our evaluations of  Adolescents 360the Hewlett Foundation’s Strategy to Apply Human-Centred Design to Improve Family Planning and Reproductive Health in Sub-Saharan Africa and of Gavi’s Support to Civil Society Organisations, among many others.

This has been a really positive learning experience but there have been some ups and downs along that the way that we have been reflecting on internally.

So, what does co-creation look like?

It is really different for every evaluation. Co-creation can range from a meeting of two hours with a handful of people to a two-day workshop with a wide range of stakeholders, including the donor, in the room. Ultimately, we aim to present our findings in a way that people can digest and interact with them. From here, we want people to have the space to draw conclusions and recommendations.

What are the key principles?

Experience has taught us a few things:

  • The facilitator needs to create a safe space: We recognise that this can be an uncomfortable process for people and so a tone of collaboration has to be set from the planning stages of the workshop.
  • An open mind from participants: This is generally a new experience for our stakeholders so it is important to say that we need them to meet us half way. We will try to create a safe space but we need participants to come into the room with an open mind and willingness to reflect and think critically about the way forward.
  • Share draft findings in advance: We have had different experiences of this but the conclusion seems to be: share draft findings with the participants before the meeting so they can digest them in advance. We are finding that it is useful to set some sort of “homework” to ensure that participants actually read them! For example, as part of the opening session of a workshop, we ask participants speak to the finding that resonated most with them and why.
  • Try to prioritise: This is a question of a little of a lot or a lot of a little. We have found that it is more useful to focus on priority areas than on trying to address every detail of the findings, this is partially due to the practicalities of workshops fatigue and fitting everything on the agenda. Work with some of the participants in advance of the workshop to identify which areas to focus on.
  • Power dynamics: Should the donor be in the room and how does this impact the first two bullets? We have facilitated multiple co-creation workshops with the donor in attendance and in one case, it was a very challenging situation, while in another it seemed to work out fine. The jury is out on this one for now.
  • Transparency: Co-creating recommendations doesn’t end once the workshop is over. To maintain trust and creditability, we need to demonstrate transparency through sharing the notes from the workshop and final text that will go into the report.

‘Co-creation’- is it just a new buzz-word?

Evaluators don’t really ‘do’ buzz-words! We believe that through working with stakeholders, the recommendations that make their way into our reports will be actionable and owned by the organisations that have to implement them! We hope that through this, we’re increasing the impact for the beneficiaries of the many programmes and projects we’re evaluating.

What next?

We’re committed to increasing the utility of our evaluations. Right now, we think co-creation is a great way of doing it. Internally, we continue to share lessons across our teams to ensure that we’re learning from each other and tweaking our co-creation processes as we go. We have also started seeking more feedback from participants to ensure we really are meeting the expectations we’re setting for ourselves.

In conclusion…give co-creation a go!

Emma Mulhern, December 2018

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