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26. April 2023 - Interview

Evaluations at medica mondiale: Are we doing the right thing right?

Evaluations do not merely measure the success of projects. They can also empower. Kirsten Wienberg, Head of the Evaluation and Quality Department, reports on how this functions and the importance of evaluations for work at medica mondiale.

A woman wearing a dark jacket and glasses is standing on a roof terrace with Cologne Cathedral in the background. Portrait photo by Kirsten Wienberg, Head of Evaluation and Quality Department
Kirsten Wienberg is head of Evaluation and Quality Department at medica mondiale.

Kirsten, evaluation is a top priority at medica mondiale. Why?

Firstly, for good reasons we have to be able to provide transparent evidence to our donors and funders about how exactly we use their money. This is possible with our permanent monitoring during individual project phases and our final evaluation of the whole project. Secondly, we see ourselves as a learning organisation. There are issues we want to check: What impacts do our projects have? Are we on the right track? Are we doing the right thing right? The answers then flow back into the project work.

How does medica mondiale involve partner organisations in the evaluation?

Our partner organisations are involved right at the beginning to help shape the evaluation processes. We also involve survivors. This experience of self-efficacy can have an incredibly empowering effect. Participation begins at the project development stage and is also part of the evaluation at the end, whenever possible.

What is the procedure for this type of participatory evaluation?

In Liberia, for example, we asked women to take photos of places where they felt safe and places where they felt unsafe. We then discussed the results together afterwards and they were incorporated into the program design. Another example is our study “We are still alive” from 2015 ...

… a study on the long-term consequences of wartime rape and the coping strategies of survivors in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

For this, 50 survivors told us their stories. This is a recognised data collection method known as the storytelling approach. In Spring 2015 we presented the study to the Bosnian parliament. In the public viewing seats were some of the women whose stories had made the study possible and I sat with the authors on the podium. After our expert talks, a speaker read out survivors’ testimonies and recommendations from the study. As she did so, I saw how a woman in the public seats sat up straight. It was her contribution that the speaker was reading out. It was her voice that was being heard in parliament. This was having an empowering impact on the woman. I still get goose bumps when I think back to it today.

So it was not only medica mondiale who benefited from the study?

Not at all. When evaluation is done wisely, it captures more than just the impact of projects. And the process of evaluation itself can have a positive effect. Evaluation highlights how the work makes a difference. This can be very empowering. The example from Liberia serves to illustrate this. The fact that we even asked the women to participate. The fact that we came back later and presented the results to them. The fact that we explained to them why their photos were important data. All of this showed them that their opinion is important.

Furthermore, evaluations can be transformative. They can change the situation of survivors – as our Bosnia study shows. Our conversations with survivors revealed how hardly any of the women knew they could apply for “war invalid” status and thus receive a disability pension including health insurance as compensation. To change that, Medica Zenica convinced government agencies to set up a free telephone hotline.

medica mondiale is a feminist organisation. How do you evaluate ‘in a feminist way’?

Even ‘feminist evaluation’ works with recognised social science instruments and in compliance with the applicable standards. But the attitude is different. Important elements for this include an awareness of power dynamics in the project work and throughout the evaluation process. And the corresponding self-reflection. The aim is to value and include the knowledge of the survivors, participants and experts in equal measure.

We typically work with external evaluation teams who can bring their regional and national expertise and also adopt a stress- and trauma-sensitive approach. It is very interesting to see the perspectives on evaluation that our colleagues in West Africa or Southeastern Europe have. And it helps us as a funding organisation from Europe to be critical of ourselves when it comes to power dynamics. The cooperation with the evaluators and the expertise of our partner organisations enrich our work immensely. For me, this is a gift.

At a glance: Impact assessment at medica mondiale

Kirsten Wienberg and her team

  • evaluate projects
  • evaluate approaches, such as the stress- and trauma-sensitive approach of medica mondiale or the approach of the Community Protection Network in Liberia
  • evaluate the advocacy work by medica mondiale
  • evaluate evaluations, to ensure they are implemented correctly collect their own data in research projects. A study is currently underway on the long-term consequences of sexualised violence in Kosovo.