Evaluating the results of an organisation is a special job. The first time I had the opportunity to make such an assessment, I was lucky to be coached by a very experienced evaluator. She taught me: You need to formulate your arguments for assessing success or failure very clearly, and trust your own judgment in this. And then, if necessary, you have to remain open for feed-back and review your conclusions and recommendations to bridge the gap between desirability and feasibility.
My first evaluation was in 1996 in Surinam, assessing the results of the human rights organisation Moiwana '86. At the time, the assessment had to focus on output and perhaps a little bit of outcome, but there was no mention of impact for the longer term. We counted publications, press releases and radio interviews. We made a start with assessing the impact in the Surinamese, highly politicized society, but that was not appreciated. Neither by the Surinamese government, nor by the Dutch government (the donor and the sponsor of the evaluation). I often remind myself that the developments in the human rights field are not a linear process. Moiwana '86 and Surinam were a clear example of two steps forward, one step backward.
My visit to Zimbabwe took place in a period when the repression was not as fierce as it is now, 1999. We interviewed a judge who had to look over his shoulder every five minutes. We thought he exaggerated, but time proved him right. It is now three steps backward, if not more.The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the organisation we evaluated, had one paid staff member and many volunteers. Our recommendations were to create a more formal organization, with annual plans and clear reporting; separate projects and people being responsible; needs assessments and measuring results. ZLHR has since grown and developed into a much bigger organisation than we had ever thought possible. It fills a need. That is clear, alas.
Then there was the assignment by the Dutch Development Agency Hivos for the evaluation of the East Timorese human rights organisation Perkumpulan/Yayasan Hak. It was in 2003, just a few years after the resignation of Suharto, after the referendum of 1999 and the independence of Timor Leste. I carried out this evaluation together with an Indonesian colleague. I had never had such an inspiring experience: a country in the process of organizing itself, informal relations and direct access to ministers (everybody knows everybody). That should make human rights realization prosper, I thought. Too optimistic again! It takes more than a successful human rights organisation to realise a satisfactory human rights situation. Moreover, Yayasan Hak was the victim of its own successes. We recommended that it should limit its activities to real human rights enjoyment, not become active in food distribution, teaching book-keeping methods or analyzing economic perspectives, although they were pressured to do so by the Timorese civil society.