Original Research

Power dynamics in international development evaluations: A case study of the Girls Education Challenge programme

Rosie O. Emerson
African Evaluation Journal | Vol 8, No 1 | a459 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aej.v8i1.459 | © 2020 Rosie O. Emerson | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 January 2020 | Published: 27 August 2020

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Rosie O. Emerson, Department of Education, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, United States of America

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Background: Low-income countries receive millions of dollars of aid each year in support of international development programmes. These programmes often have a requirement for evaluation. Evaluators are therefore uniquely placed to contribute to the social and economic development of these countries by conducting useful evaluations. This study elaborates on the power dynamics involved in international development evaluations so that evaluators can be better positioned to conduct impactful evaluations.

Objectives: The objective of this study was to explore how power is configured and distributed amongst key stakeholders and how power imbalances impact evaluations.

Method: The study utilized the Girls Education Challenge (GEC) programme as a case study. GEC was a multi-million-dollar program that supported 37 education projects in 18 countries in Africa and South Asia. Interviews were conducted with 13 evaluators and 10 programme representatives - staff from organizations that were part of the GEC programme.

Results: The study concluded that donors wield significant power over evaluations and there are few avenues for less powerful stakeholders to speak truth to power. At best, donors can help to increase the quality and utilisation of evaluations. At worst, they can hinder culturally responsive evaluation practices. Furthermore, the status quo favours international evaluators and utilises local researchers merely as hired hands – overseeing the logistics of data collection.

Conclusion: The main implication of this study is that evaluators need to conduct formal or informal power analyses in order to identify power asymmetries and potential power sharing opportunities and strategies.


culturally responsive evaluations; international development evaluations; power; programme evaluation; Africa; South-East Asia; case study


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