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Sylvia Bergh: Can (Evaluation) Consultants be Civic Innovators? Exploring the Shift from Auditors to Allies

Title: Can (Evaluation) Consultants be Civic Innovators? Exploring the Shift from Auditors to Allies

Authors: Kees Biekart and Sylvia Bergh

Institution: International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Presenter: Sylvia Bergh

Relevance of the paper for the conference theme ‘M&E for Responsible Innovation’

This is a draft book chapter that we are currently working on. We have already interviewed several (evaluation) consultants about their experiences in bringing about more systemic change (what we call ‘civic innovations’). The paper would contribute to answering the questions under core question 3 in the conference concept note: What are the prerequisites for taking responsibility for systemic change in terms of M&E professional’s roles & responsibilities; values and principles; competencies; as well as the institutional changes that would be needed in the aid industry and evaluation departments especially.


This paper aims to give substance to the discussion ‘who are the civic innovators?’ by focusing on a particular type of actor in the aid industry: development consultants. While they are often seen in a negative light (‘aid mafia’) we want to question this image by looking for real cases in which consultants may not be / have been conformist to the dominant (de-politicized) aid paradigm but are mobilizing others to bring about deep-seated political transformations, or at least question the status quo and thereby spark ‘civic energy’. We propose a typology where next to the ‘auditor’ type of consultants, we can identify the ‘ally’ (or ‘activist’) consultants with a proper change agenda. By conducting semi-structured interviews with current and former consultants as well as commissioning agents, we want to get clarity about the social motivations of consultants and examine the factors that have enabled consultants to become change agents, or factors that turn out to be obstacles. Drawing on insights from the emerging field of aidnography, the contribution will also test the empirical relevance of the 'interlocutors' concept proposed by Alan Fowler.