60 Seconds with…Claire Hughes

Our 60 Seconds with…’ blogs are designed to provide a quick run down of what our staff do here at Itad. Here is what Claire had to say:

What’s your job here at Itad?

I’m a Principal Consultant at Itad, and I lead our work on Empowerment, Accountability and Gender.  The company provides monitoring and evaluation services so all of the jobs we get involved in relate to monitoring and evaluation in some way.

What does that involve?

It involves many things!  I work with others in the organisation to build up a portfolio of projects in my area.  This involves identifying projects that are going to be tendered by various development agencies, preparing for them by identifying possible team members, thinking through a possible approach and then writing proposals to win the work when the assignments are tendered.  When we win work – which we often do – I’m then involved in managing the project, the budget, the team, liaising with the client, doing the technical work and reporting on it.

The jobs we are involved in are very varied.  On one project I am working on we are evaluating whether a cash transfer to mothers in Northern Nigeria has a positive impact on children’s nutrition and the welfare of other family members.  On another, we are assessing how the European Commission has taken forward its commitments to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in countries around the world and what has been achieved.

How did you get into the field?

I’m relatively new to monitoring and evaluation but have worked in the field of empowerment and accountability in international development for a long time.  I was working on a large health project in Nigeria, assisting communities to monitor services provided by their local clinics.  What I found most difficult was the development of a good monitoring and evaluation framework, which clearly quantified what we were trying to achieve.  The work I do is very qualitative, it’s about giving people confidence to demand more and better and help them to have more influence.  It’s not easy to count, so it’s not easy to monitor but that doesn’t mean it’s not important or useful.  I wanted to learn how to do it better, hence my interest in joining Itad.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the variety.  No one project is the same.  It’s also extremely challenging work, trying to figure out how to help extremely disenfranchised people make change in their lives and how to measure that change to demonstrate to your donor that you are doing a good job.

What new innovations/methods have you noticed in your sector?

There’s an increasing interest in the use of technology to enable people to hold government and service providers to account.  I’m a bit of a technophobe, so I’m having to deal with my fears and learn about ways in which technology can give people more power in developing countries.  I’ve got involved in supporting a World Bank evaluation of the different technological approaches, which encourage citizen empowerment.  It’s a good opportunity to learn.

Recent highlight/job wins?

My proudest moment at Itad was winning the contract to conduct macro evaluations of DFID’s work in empowerment and accountability and gender.  It is a hugely significant piece of work, both for DFID and for Itad.  I spent my first 9 months at Itad preparing for the tender to be released.  Writing the proposal was really daunting – it’s such a challenging piece of work and I was still very new to the evaluation field.  But with some excellent support from colleagues, we wrote a strong bid and won it.

We are now 4 months into the evaluation and things are going well.  It’s an incredibly exciting piece of work.  By evaluating DFID’s portfolio of projects in these two areas, we will generate important learning into what works in different contexts.  Our communications strategy will ensure this learning shapes future DFID policy and practices, as well as the practices of other development agencies.

Most interesting question you have been asked recently?

I really can’t think of one!  I think it’s usually me asking the questions!

Favourite place you have visited as part of your job?

It’s hard to choose!  I love Ethiopia – fascinating culture, mellow people and fabulous coffee!  But the most obscure place I’ve been to is Karakalpakstan.  It’s south of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan.  I was working with nomadic herders trying to understand how their livelihoods were being affected by government’s development of new land drainage systems.  It’s a very remote part of the country.  We were living in a yurt in a nomadic settlement, miles from anywhere.  The land is of very poor quality, seriously affected by the drying up of the Aral Sea.  In fact, you can see a film of salt lying on the land as a result of the massive shrinking of the Aral Sea.  It’s hard to imagine that community life continues in such a harsh environment, but it does!

Claire Hughes, June 2014