Last week Amy Sweeney and I went to one of the biggest conferences either of us had ever seen, the American Evaluation Association’s annual shindig with more than 3500 participants and more than 900 sessions. Who knew there were so many evaluators in the world?

Monitoring and evaluation is a tricky business. We’ve all heard stories of wasted aid money and even well-intentioned programs that somehow fail to move the needle. If there are so many monitors and evaluators all over the world, why does this still happen? The truth is development is hard to evaluate, and experts are always striving towards new ways: collaboration, using multiple methods, and adopting new technologies. Our favorite is the buzz-word we kept hearing throughout the conference: “citizen-based evaluation.” After all, what better way is there to find out if a program or service is working than to ask the people most affected. Let the people speak.

Citizen-based monitoring is what GeoPoll does best, and with technological advances, it’s now possible to have more frequent engagement with stakeholders, thereby better gauging progress and allowing for mid-course corrections when needed. For evaluators, it’s really a brilliant strategy. This isn’t something that replaces other methods, but rather another great tool, and that can enhance the effectiveness of everything in the toolbox.

Donors and governments can argue with negative findings in an evaluation, complaining it was subjective or the evaluators didn’t understand the situation well enough, but how do you argue when thousands of recipients of a project say there was no appreciable impact on their lives, that the water isn’t as readily available as promised, teachers in the new school aren’t showing up, or promised medicine is rarely available at the clinic? In the inverse, how do development agencies and foundations cut funding when thousands of people report how their prospects have been improved since the building of a new road, electric plant, or hospital? It’s hard to disagree with ten thousand voices, one hundred thousand, or even a million.

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What I love best at GeoPoll is getting to watch citizen-based monitoring up close and personal- their own voices, no filters, no biases, just the word of the people. It is a thrilling and humbling experience to see a text come in from a young person in Tunisia, a voice recording from a woman in Afghanistan, or a person in the midst of the chaos in Eastern DRC, and to know these are just a few of the thousands of thoughts and opinions we are gathering, That’s people power. Let the people speak!