Creative Consulting & Development Works

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On the outside looking in

6 February 2018

We’re loving February for many different reasons.

This is the month when we realise time does not stand still, and the first portionof the year is gone. Inevitably those who made new years’ resolutions will pause to think about their progress with their commitment to lose weight, spend more time with friends and family, study, sleep more, drink less, quit smoking, etc.This means that February may bring some stress, disappointment, or satisfaction, depending on what we did in January.

February is also a reminder that summer in the Southern hemisphere will not last forever, and that autumn and winter will be here soon. Depending on whether you love summer or winter best, you may love or hate it that days are becoming shorter and cooler. With winter approaching, there is hope for rain in the drought-ridden Western Cape.


There is also the State of the Nation Address, on 8 February 2018. This key political event is an opportunity for the President to report on the economic and social state of the nation, and includes a review of the past year and priorities for 2018.  Given the current state of affairs this SONA is going to be decisive in determining how South Africa’s future political and economic landscape unfolds.

For those who are romantically inclined and are looking for an opportunity to make a (daring) move, February is the time. It is hard not to notice the red hearts, roses, candles teddy bears that and other items signalling Valentine’s Day on the 14th. Not everyone celebrates the day – some call it “Single Awareness Day” and others just ignore it.

Interestingly, there is no agreement on the origins of the day of love. Some say it originated from an ancient pagan festival of lust and nudity in the times of the Roman Empire; others say it morphed into a Christian celebration of St. Valentine as the Catholic Church gained ground; and an alternative explanation is that it is just an excuse to celebrate spring in February – that is in the Northern hemisphere.

So, what does all of this have to do with evaluation?

Apart from the obvious need to plan properly to make those New Year’s’ resolutions work out as intended – read Theory of Change, Theory of Action, Indicators, Targets, Timelines – there are two other things that come up: context, and values.

The importance of context is clear from the above thoughts on February – for everyone in the world it signals the approach of a new season, but depending on whether you live in the Southern or the Northern hemisphere, the approaching season will be different. The issue of context in evaluation is equally important.

It is also clear that where we “stand”, or in other words, our own perspectives and situation has an influence on what we think about February. Similarly, in evaluation, every evaluator has a position, like it or not. As evaluators we give careful consideration to many aspects and variables, but are we conscious enough of how our own background, position in society, gender, age, preferences – the list can continue endlessly – shape how we engage with an evaluation, right from the time when we read the Terms of Reference).

February is a reminder that it is a good idea for evaluators to pause, stand back, do some introspection, and check our assumptions, biases and filters. As evaluators, we need to make sound judgements about the projects and programmes we evaluate, and we cannot take that responsibility lightly. This said, we also have to be conscious that finding the truth is not as simple as it seems. Who we are, where we come from, what we value, and what we want from the future may influence us profoundly in our work, particularly in qualitative inquiry, where “the human being is the instrument of data collection” (Patton, 2002: 51).

Patton proposes that the social scientists need to “carefully reflect on, deal with, and report potential sources of bias and error” in addition to other ways[1] to ensure that high-quality qualitative data, which is trustworthy, and fair to the phenomenon and/or the people being studied. If not, our work will be worthless.        

Bias can occur at any stage of research, even when we decide what to study/evaluate, or how the research questions are formulated. Even in research where rigorous quantitative data is collected, bias and distortion can occur. For example, measurement bias happens when values are produced that “systematically differ from the true value in some way… one of the things that might contribute to response bias is the appearance or behaviour of the person asking the question, the group or organisation conducting the study, and the tendency for people not to be completely honest when asking about illegal behaviour or unpopular beliefs.” (Peck, Olden, Devore, 2012: 38)

Without elaborating on all the potential sources of bias, it should be mentioned that social theory is steeped in values, embedded in the context and culture from where they emanate. Some argue that “researchers must be unbiased” (Weber 1949 in Neuman, 2003: 497), while the idea of value-free research is disputed as being “a value in favour of ‘value free’”, and that it is used to disguise or hide scientists and professionals’ own values (Gouldner, 1976) in Neuman, 2003: 497).

Realising that it is virtually impossible to be totally value-free, Gouldner recommended that researchers make their own values explicit, and saw value in how researchers’ own values can motivate them to make a meaningful contribution: “The researcher who is motivated by a strong moral desire to effect change need not invalidate good research practice” (Neuman, 20013: 497).

Another suggestion comes from Patton (2002: 51), who says that credible research requires a “stance of neutrality” regarding the phenomenon being studied. This means that the researcher does not attempt to prove any perspective, or does not attempt to arrive at “predisposed truths”, but has the intention to understand what is being studied, with all its complexities and the multiple perspectives related to the phenomenon.

Perhaps the proposition that social researchers should “adopt a relational position – a position apart from any specific social group, yet in touch with all groups” should be considered (Mannheim, 1936 in Neuman, 2003: 497 – 498).  A relational position requires social researchers to be somewhat detached, or marginal in society, albeit with “connections with all parts of society, even parts that are often overlooked or hidden.” Roughly translated in plain language, this could mean “on the outside looking in”.

In the diverse South African society, where all are affected and influenced in some way by the history of the country, and where many issues are highly politicised, it is particularly relevant for researchers and evaluators to engage in discussions on values, and positioning, and perhaps to define what “relational positioning” means in the South African context, and what we can contribute to society through our unique positioning. This discussion could be useful to interrogate the potential contribution of social research, and particularly evaluation, in an evidence-based policy environment.    

  But before we start with this serious and important discussion – enjoy February, and happy Valentine’s day.

Fia van Rensburg is a Senior Evaluator at Creative Consulting & Development Works



Neuman, W.L. 2003. Social Research Methods. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. 5th Edition. Pearson Education. Boston.

Patton, M. Q. 2002. Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods. 3rd Edition. Sage Publications. London.

Peck, R., Olsen, C. & Devore, J. 2012. Introduction to Statistics & Data Analysis. 4th Edition. Brooks/Cole. Australia.  

[1] Systematic data collection procedures, rigorous training, multiple data sources, triangulation, external reviews etc.

90-90-90 Targets: Beyond treatment towards prevention

26 January 2018

In 2015 global health achieved a seemingly ambitious task of providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) to 15 million people – a global health history first. Following this success, UNAIDS began to develop a workable model to reach the 2030 target for ending the AIDS epidemic.

The 90-90-90 targets are new research-based targets set for 2020 to endeavour to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. It stands for:

  • 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status by 2020;
  • 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy by 2020; and
  • 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression by 2020.

The key to this target is viral suppression. Viral suppression refers to a condition where an HIV-positive individual with strong adherence to ART suppresses the viral load to undetectable levels. Studies have shown that viral suppression is a key element in limiting the spread of HIV.

“Interim findings from the PARTNER study indicate that among 767 serodiscordant couples, no case of HIV transmission occurred when the person living with HIV had suppressed virus – after an estimated 40 000 instances of sexual intercourse.”

In order to reach the targets, the global community must address the key barriers that are currently preventing treatment adoption, access to treatment and treatment adherence. These include:

  • The elimination of stigma, discrimination and social exclusion;
  • addressing current poor coverage in priority countries that require catch-up;
  • building capacity in local healthcare systems; and
  • accurately funding the model.

It’s a tall order, requiring long-term flexibility and responsiveness of health systems, sustainable financing, innovations in pharmaceuticals, early detection and a significant shift in perspectives.

For more info on this insightful study click here:

The ‘urban/semi-urban/rural’ classification debate – is it still relevant and adequate for evaluators?

1 November 2017

Creative Consulting & Development Works (CC&DW) team members attended a SAMEA conference from 23rd-27th of October 2017 at the Hilton Hotel, Sandton Johannesburg. SAMEA (South African Monitoring & Evaluation Association) brings together delegates, from government, private sector, nonprofits, universities and international organisations to share knowledge on monitoring and evaluation.

Fia Janse van Rensburg and Sitho Mavengere presented a paper titled; Is the seemingly simple ‘urban/semi-urban/rural’ classification still relevant and adequate, and are evaluators aware of the discourse on geographic typologies in South Africa?  This paper was motivated by the argument that in development thinking and evaluation practice and subsequent evaluations there is continuous reference to typology of ‘urban/semi-urban/rural areas’.

The key question in this paper, is whether the ‘urban-rural’ dichotomy, or an ‘urban-semi-urban-rural’ continuum actually exists. This typology is widely used, but there are differing definitions of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ exists, so although the same label may be used, the conceptualisation could differ. There is no standard definition of urban or rural characteristics as there are different geographical typologies that are used in South Africa.  Migration and changing settlement patterns shows up the limitations of the ‘urban-rural’ classification, and questions its ability to adequately respond to the reality of social, economic and developmental diversity of populations residing in areas classified as ‘urban’.

Evaluators need to be aware how the geographical classification can contribute to intervention effects.  More importantly, evaluators should be able to identify and use the appropriate geographical classification system to ensure adequate coverage of beneficiary groups in an evaluation. In South Africa, informal settlements are developing in affluent areas resulting in both urban communities and informal communities living side-by-side. When evaluations are being commissioned for these areas the interventions are classified as located in urban areas, yet it is both urban and informal.

For the evaluations to measure the effects of the programmes or projects, the geographical classification should play a pivotal role for the interventions to produce the desired effects. Therefore, evaluators need to understand contextual issues, including appropriate geographical classification of programmes implemented in South Africa.

Dataviz enriches the research and evaluation landscape

1 November 2017

Creative Consulting & Development Works (CC&DW) facilitated a well attended one-day workshop on Creative Data Visualisation at the recent 6th Biennial SAMEA Pre-Conference Capacity Building Series. Participants included South African local, provincial and national government representatives, international agencies and nonprofits, all looking to start their journey with data visualisation, aka “dataviz”.

CC&DW’s introductory workshop on Creative Data Visualisation is designed as a two-day course. It was tailored for the SAMEA conference into a one-day workshop to provide participants with a ‘taste’ of data visualisation. This course is designed to facilitate the start of participants data visualisation journey. It is specifically for those working in the field of research, monitoring and evaluation, including individuals involved in presenting data. Given the overwhelmingly positive feedback, CC&DW will be offering this course to the public, organisations and government departments in 2018.

Participants will be introduced to the key principles and theories behind the visualisation of data. Participatory exercises will encourage the application of creative data visualisation tools. Presenting data visually to effectively communicate to various audiences, with maximum impact, is the future. Join our team in 2018 at one of our upcoming creative data visualisation courses and start your exciting dataviz journey.

Quotes from Creative Data Visualisation workshop participants

CC&DW Creative Data Visualisation participant Moipone Malahleha from Gauteng Office of the Premier, with workshop presenter Fia van Rensburg.

Marethabile Maseela – World Vision Lesotho

The course was great. It’s something I wanted to know more about. I don’t think anything in regards to the course content should change. I would, however, want the course to be a two or three-day course. I was so re-charged from the course that I went out to buy books on data visualization and am reading them.

Phiwe Mncwabe – Gauteng Office of the Premier

The course was lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would recommend this course to my colleagues. It helped me to look at data creatively. I would like more time to do the course, I think it would be best to go through the exercises with the facilitator, than on my own. Overall it was a great workshop, I would suggest that we have more than one day, perhaps two to three days would be sufficient.

Ann-Lhyn – DPME

The course was very insightful. However, it was rather short. I wanted to do more practical work and if it were over two days, it would be even more amazing. I would definitely recommend it to my colleagues

Mpumelelo Mahlalela – Kwadukuza Municipality

I enjoyed the course because it was interactive, very useful, I have learnt a lot of new things from it. The resources shared with us are very constructive and provided insight based on the course. This is a constructive and mind-blowing course that I would love to recommend to my colleagues.

The one word that summarises SAMEA 2017

1 November 2017

Itumeleng Ramano, CC&DW Project and Training Coordinator attended the recent SAMEA conference and took care of visitors to the CC&DW exhibition stand. She shares her experience and conference takeaways with us here.

My role in CC&DW is that of a Project and Training Coordinator. My job entails that I am responsible for overall project assistance and the training component of the organization. When I was given the opportunity to attend the SAMEA conference in Johannesburg, I was very excited. Upon arrival at the conference, the atmosphere was electric. People were excited and happy. When I started speaking with other delegates, I began to understand the true power behind M&E, informed by my background in capacity building, community mobilization, strategic planning within the public health sector.

I learned from the attending talks at the conference, as well as my communication with various people, of the amazing calibre and importance of M&E. One of the most interesting conversations I had was with Mr Amadou Oumarou from the Niger High Commission, reporting to the Prime Minister. When Mr Oumarou approached our stand, he initially wanted a stress ball (granted, he confessed he had no idea what it was for).  From that moment, we began talking about the conference and how important it is to have something like this in Africa. His interest in CC&DW peaked when I offered him a company profile and explained the work we do. As a representative of Twende Mbele (a Kiswahili term for moving together forward), he spoke of seeking a potential partnership with CC&DW.

If there is one word I can use to summarize the conference is “Purpose”. This is what I saw from all the people I interacted with.  They came to the conference with a purpose and left with a sense of renewal, revival and energy to continue with the great work which they do.