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Lessons learned from running the Haiti Observatory
Yvan Conoir

Since 2012, Groupe URD has implemented a variety of initiatives with the aim of improving analysis, sharing lessons, providing training and disseminating knowledge of good practices in humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Haiti. The following are the lessons from the evaluation of one of the projects.

The final evaluation of the Humanitarian Evaluation and Learning Project (HELP) [1] is in the process of being finalised and a certain number of preliminary observations show that the results of the initiatives implemented are positive, while questions remain about the sustainability of the work carried out in Haiti. Since 2012, Groupe URD has implemented a variety of initiatives with the aim of improving analysis, sharing lessons, providing training and disseminating knowledge of good practices in humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Haiti. The detailed studies carried out by Groupe URD on a certain number of topics showed that the organisation has the ability to open up innovative fields of research (e.g. “Security and humanitarian aid in Haiti”) or to conduct thematic research in support of genuine areas of reconstruction: “Reconstruction and environment in the metropolitan region of Port-au-Prince”, or “Community-based approaches in urban contexts”. A more fundamental study on the role of socio-cultural factors in the management of WASH programmes carried out in Haiti also had an impact well beyond the borders of the country. The pertinence of the study inspired the work of managers and professionals from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC). The organisation subsequently produced a “How to guide” (Sociocultural assessment tool for water, sanitation and hygiene programmes on cultural good practice for WASH projects) which is of use both in Haiti and in other humanitarian contexts.

Another main area of work for Groupe URD, in connection with the HELP project, involved looking at ways to increase national evaluation capacity within national and international humanitarian organisations, and integrating these lessons in the long term as part of a sustainable local institutional approach. The different training courses run by Groupe URD for both professionals and academics, where many participants were either effective national evaluators (who had conducted a certain number of evaluations) or potential evaluators (without any previous experience of evaluation), met their objectives in terms of quality and pertinence. However, it has to be recognised that the evaluation of medium term impact is a little more mixed. The Haitian evaluators who were trained by the project did receive assistance from the Groupe URD office to improve their methodology and their evaluation matrix and to apply this in evaluations in Haiti. However, the reality that many of them have to face due to their lack of experience and the absence of a formal group of national evaluators obviously limits the ability of even the most determined of them to make evaluation a profession.

In addition, Groupe URD’s efforts to encourage University departments to include training courses and curricula did not achieve the hoped for results, despite genuine effort, particularly with the University of Haiti. Evaluation as a tool to improve quality and to measure efforts and changes made by humanitarian or other organizations, is not sufficiently recognised and part of regular practice. There is no network of practitioners and disciples integrated into a professional structure for validating what has been learned and work that is carried out, and who are interested in progressing either alone or working with international practitioners. The fact that there is no institutional body in Port-au-Prince dedicated to the implementation of evaluation as a learning or warning tool, and Groupe URD’s withdrawal as a reference organisation in this domain (training, evaluation practice, national coaching, and dissemination of evaluation results) minimalises the medium term impact of training a reference group of national evaluators. However, the evaluation noted that certain national NGOs are keen to “nationalize” or “creolise” all or part of Groupe URD’s materials. This is also true for the Ministry for Planning and External Communication (MCPE). In Spring 2015, through determination, and taking advantage of human resources trained by Groupe URD (with Spanish funding from AECID), the MPCE’s Head of Coordination with NGOs organized training seminars using Groupe URD’s training materials for the staff of 10 different ministries in each of the provinces of the country. On a more modest scale, another organisation specialized in micro-credit announced its intention to train its national staff throughout the country in monitoring and evaluation techniques, by “creolising” Groupe URD’s training materials.

The recent closure of Groupe URD’s Observatory in Haiti and consequently the end of its research, training and dissemination activities is viewed as a major loss both for the professionals who were trained in evaluation and for a large number of national and international humanitarians. In the words of an observer questioned for a survey: “The activities of Groupe URD allow us to go further by exploring topics in greater detail and by comparing several points of view, which are often contradictory, but which help to move the debate forward. Sharing lessons other than that imposed by donors is essential”. Those who trained in evaluation hoped that the Observatory would allow them “to take part in real evaluations so that [they] could perfect their training” [2].

At the end of this three year project, two questions remain unanswered: 1) Why was Groupe URD unable to secure the means and resources which would have allowed it to establish a long-term presence in Haiti, either alone or in partnership with other local/international structures; and 2) Why is an organisation which analyses the transition from emergency relief to development withdrawing from a country where, for the first time, the United Nations have just moved from a Humanitarian Annual Plan (HAP) to a Transitional Annual Plan (TAP) which defines new objectives in terms of recovery, resilience, and transition to development. These questions, which were already raised to a certain extent during the closing phases of the Afghanistan and Chad Observatories, show that donors are not yet convinced of the long-term added value of the Observatory concept, as a tool for continuous learning at the field level, improved contextual analysis and national evaluation capacity building.

Yvan Conoir, Universalia Management Group

[1] The HELP project, funded by USAID, is one of the projects which allowed the activities of the Observatory to be carried out in Haiti. The Observatory also received support from DFID, IrishAid and ECHO.

[2] These statements were made in connection with a survey carried out for the evaluation of the HELP project.