Pamela Dianne White

Pamela Dianne White

Senior Manager
Cowater International Finland Oy

Experienced Senior Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the international development industry, for a wide range of financiers (including FAO, IFAD, WB, EU, MFA Finland, Danida, etc.), NGOs and directly for governments. Skilled in International Project Management, Food Security, Sustainable Development, Capacity Development, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Natural Resources Management and Rural Development. Specific expertise in gender, human rights based approach and evaluations.
Strong consulting professional with a Doctorate Social Sciences - under work (focused on Development Studies) from University of Helsinki. Earlier degrees in Social Sciences (Masters) and Veterinary Science

My contributions

  • Disability inclusion in evaluation

    • I am certainly no expert on this topic, but it is something that I have struggled with (and I look at it here as both an implementer and as an external evaluator). The difficulty I find is that inclusion of people with disabilities is only one issue among many in implementation and evaluation. For instance, bilaterals or the UN are starting to talk about disability, but we still don’t see much evidence of inclusion in practice (other than perhaps individuals receiving support in some form of income generation). Even with the interest to work more on the topic, there isn’t much inclusion to actually evaluate! It is early days as yet and there are so many topics that project teams are asked to look at, including caste, ethnicity, gender/sex, youth/age, poverty and remoteness, in addition to the actual project thematic topic itself (eg. agriculture, water supply, etc).

      In our Finnish (and EU) funded projects in Nepal, it was feasible to take some actions on implementation (and staff training) as we had the hands-on team in place at local level – but I still question how big a contribution we could make. I feel like it is often easier to work on the topic as an NGO, where you are more able to give individual attention, rather than a big project working at scale.

      The greatest difficulty in addressing this, in my opinion, is that disability comes in so many forms and needs different approaches, including in evaluation. Generally speaking, we can bring together groups that are differentiated by sex; or caste; or ethnicity – and ask for quotas, targeted activities, focus group discussions, etc. Of course, not everyone in that group of women, for instance, will have the same interests, but they will have the opportunity to participate. But an activity that suits a blind person may not suit someone with a mental disability. And I have often found that people with physical disabilities – especially following an injury – often don’t identify themselves as being a person with a disability (PWD). I have also heard that there is even conflict within groups sometimes – with for instance, Brahmin caste PWDs being upset about being included in a group with Dalit PWDs, though I haven’t seen this personally. I recently was involved in a GALS training process in Tanzania, and we required participation by people with disabilities as well as religious leaders, youth groups, entrepreneurs, etc. But it was clear that while the people with physical disabilities could participate well, those with mental disabilities struggled.

      There are also practical barriers to inclusive evaluations. Generally, the budget for evaluations is not large and I really doubt that many development partners will be keen to pay more for projects that are not specifically disability focused. While I agree that there are steps that can be taken to be more inclusive, they are potentially a lot more expensive in terms of time and money. And as I am sure all evaluators can recognise, we often carry out flying visits during evaluations (even getting into more remote areas away from the road is difficult), and may struggle to get a representative selection of the community for focus groups, etc. It may not be possible in the time available to visit the homes of PWD, nor for them to physically reach the meeting area. Access for evaluators or staff with disabilities is also problematic in rural areas. We had some experiences in Nepal, for instance, taking a blind interpreter to the field, but it was pretty challenging, due to the difficulties with access. The young woman got terribly car sick on the winding roads, exacerbated by not being able to look forwards on the road, etc.  – and needed a lot of help trekking uphill. More like a good example to us and the community, rather than something that we could replicate easily. And we had to say no, on one occasion, to a potential wheelchair bound evaluator in the mountains, as it simply isn’t feasible to get out of the car in the rough ground. Again, if you aim to represent all sectors within the evaluation team, then having women and men, and a spread of caste/ethnicity, as well as a PWD, along with the required thematic expertise and language skills, is virtually impossible. We also can’t assume that an evaluator from a specific group will necessarily be more sensitive to the issues of that group. Obviously we should, however, ensure that the evaluators in a team discuss potential disability issues and have an open mindset.

      Sounds a bit defeatist, I realise. We can do some things to promote inclusion in evaluation. Use of online methods can assist us to reach people in remote areas – but this requires that they have access to a smart phone or laptop and expertise or assistance. And while this works for individual meetings – or several with their own connection – it doesn’t work for focus groups in a community setting. Invite participation of everyone in meetings, and enquire who isn’t participating, and who in the community may have a disability. Ensuring that if the disaggregation of data has extended to disability, then we report on this. If it hasn’t, then it is a recommendation for the project team. Encourage the project to provide sensitization/training on issues of disability for their staff (simple exercises like getting them to use crutches or a wheelchair are a great way for them to really feel the issues, rather than theoretically understanding them).

      I am interested to hear more ideas from others for making evaluations more inclusive – beyond the obvious “ensure there is sufficient budget”.

      Good luck to everyone on this challenging issue!



    • Hi Safieh and Eriasafu,

      Yes, I always do want to capture the involvement of women and different ethnicities/castes in all aspects of projects. So indeed, I do visit houses and other locations, not only official meetings, and try to establish what is happening behind the scenes. But usually when decisions are made in larger meetings in mixed communities  it is the powerful in a community (and they are usually not the women or ethnic minorities) that control decision-making if there is no one present to facilitate participation of everyone.

      That said, when doing a large scale evaluation there isn’t much scope for going very deep (as compared to a small project). We can’t visit all households in every community. In practice, I find that opinions vary from person to person or community to community also, so participation may not produce a similar view from all. If evaluating a project with national level funding and perhaps not local level staff or advisors, we rely on Government staff and the results framework for the indicators. Generally it is Government who decides on the priorities and approaches, and they may have different opinions from the local community or individuals.

      There is also the question of whether it is reasonable to ‘interfere’ if local cultural practices are actually detrimental to women’s health or safety. To give a long example, but one that demonstrates the challenges - I work with a long term project in Nepal and the menstruation taboos in remote villages can be quite extreme, ranging from exclusion in chhaupadi huts, not being allowed to touch taps or use toilets, or eat nutritious food during menstruation or after childbirth. Bearing in mind the UN Right to sanitation and water, and the Nepali Constitution, these practices are not acceptable in law in Nepal, yet they continue. Hence, while some in the villages are opposed to interventions for change on the basis that these are traditional practices, we feel that it is justified to intervene to change practices. Something similar could be said about FGM practices in other countries.  If I came in as an evaluator and spoke with some members of the community (including older women) they would probably say that this is the local practice and is perfectly acceptable. But others, particularly the young women, may object strongly. So whose voice is considered? (it becomes a bit like the old adage of a blind person describing an elephant, depending on which part they have felt!). And by forcing women to go for open defecation rather than use their toilet, the overall sanitation and hygiene of the community is impacted, yet people may not even see the connection. So it is quite challenging.

      In the case of less extreme issues – such as countries where local women have traditionally not participated in working life outside of the home… if the indicators are anticipating more participation and there isn’t, then we end up having to score the project poorly on gender equality and women’s empowerment. This might be a question of targets being set too high, out of synch with local culture, but then the question remains of whether it is ok to try to make a change? There are often these days expectations that development project will achieve transformative change for women or ethnic minorities, people with disabilities or other disadvantaged groups. But that can be difficult to see if women are not participating in the meetings or training, leading activities or receiving benefits. How do we measure any potential change?

      Anyway – enough rambling! I don’t have the solutions here, but I am aware that as evaluators we are stuck between communities/projects and the financiers, and trying to make an acceptable and fair assessment!

      Good luck to all others with these conundrums! Pam

    • Hi,

      This is not so much a ‘how to’ but something I struggle with at times, when doing an evaluation and trying to track gender outputs/outcomes. How far do we say that issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment should be applied in a project, and therefore to evaluate it accordingly?

      I was accused once by a local evaluation team member of not respecting local cultural norms. The accusation was that in that culture, women don’t participate in meetings, work outside the home, etc. and only men were the likely stakeholders - and by asking questions about this, including from that team member (in what I felt was a respectful manner), I was not being culturally appropriate.

      Personally I feel that if the project stakeholders have agreed activities should be done in a certain way, and especially if there are national/local gender strategies or commitments, then it is fair to discuss lack of compliance in the evaluation. Otherwise we are ignoring commitments to improve the status of women and just supporting ‘business as usual’, even if it isn’t local cultural practice. Naturally we need to consult with project staff or local sources to ensure we understand the issues and aren’t blundering into a highly sensitive issue, or ignoring a local method of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE). It might be that the local stakeholders haven’t been fully consulted or informed about the need to involve women (or ethnic minorities or castes, or whatever the specific sensitivity is), and that is another issue for the evaluation. But I don’t feel that as evaluators, we should simply ignore the way things are done.

      Best wishes, Pam

    • Dear All,

      My experience when working with independent evaluation offices of Rome-based agencies has been positive regarding independence. They have generally 'had my back' when there is conflict with project staff or country/regional teams, insisting on the team's independence and right to access information without interference, discussing ratings - and even concluding that we should be more critical, at times. Usually in these cases there is at least some involvement of the evaluation office staff together with the independent consultants (though not always during the field visit). Re interview notes - they are usually in my possession so it isn't really a case of 'obtaining them'. In fact, I am not certain on the legality of using them in other assignments - obviously there would need to be care involved as the information was obtained under different contract.

      Best wishes,


  • In this context, during 2019-2020, the IFAD independent office of evaluation (IOE) conducted a corporate-level evaluation of IFAD’s support to innovations between 2009 and 2019 (link to the Evaluation report). This was a challenging task, not least because of the varying interpretation of what is an innovation.

    The evaluation applied mixed-methods. It analysed 508 loan projects, 240 large grants, and undertook case studies in 20 countries. A systems approach was applied leading to an analytical grid, which includes 4 components (macro domains) of the agri-food system and 12 subcomponents as presented in the Figure below.

    image systems approach

    Source: Adapted from TEEB

    • Dear Eoghan and other members,

      I am trying to think about the disabilities question. My experience with this specifically is a bit more implementation linked than evaluation. In Nepal, I am working with a Finnish/EU funded water resources development project (RVWRMP), and we have been trying to work on issues related to disability, but it is tricky. Apart from anything else, in the remote mountains where we are working, there are surprisingly few PWD (much fewer than there ought to be really). I think that is a combination of reasons – possibly severely disabled babies are not cared for, or simply don’t get the necessary medical care to survive. Health care for everyone is a problem. Some kids are sent down to schools on the plains. There is a level of shame and not wanting to admit that there is a PWD in the family – as if it is severe, it might make things difficult for marrying off the siblings – so some may be kept hidden at home. But another issue is that many people don’t self identify as having a disability. I have sat in meetings trying to raise the issue, and there will be someone sitting in the group, missing a leg, but they won’t call themselves disabled! Even access to mass meetings and trainings can be problematic for people with limited mobility. In the mountains there is no way that anyone can use a wheelchair, so if they can’t walk or hop, it is difficult for an adult to attend a meeting far from their home.

      We consider disability within social inclusion (and rights). However, we also have the problem that we are disaggregating data already by sex, caste, ethnicity, location. If we have to start disaggregating everything by PWD we will have a mess! We do some targeted info gathering. For instance, when reporting hygiene activities during COVID, we counted work with PWD. And we are doing targeted household surveys to try to find out the functional disabilities and how they might be served by being involved in the project activities. But I don’t want to set targets as it is a bit artificial.

      The other issue is that every disability is different – you can’t just lump everyone under the same heading. People with eyesight problems may be offended if they are considered the same as people with disabilities. I have also heard (from a Finnish disability activist and researcher) that there can be sub-divisions for other reasons – for instance some Organisations of PWD in India divide themselves into sub-groups according to caste!! The Brahmins don’t want to mix with the Dalits!

      I have also met with organised groups of PWD in western Nepal – they have good ideas, however they tend to be more city based and not really active at all out in our project areas – I guess that is probably the case in many countries.

      It  has been easier for us to talk about disability with WASH – and I learned that when talking about toilet access, rather than talking only about PWD, I expand it to include frail elderly – that gets everyone’s attention as everyone has an elderly person at home, and we will all become old one day!! We haven’t done so much on disability within agriculture – but we do have PWD involved in the home garden groups.

      The Washington Group has done work on disability. I’m attaching their short list of questions – very much related to functional disability.

      Re evaluation – I suspect it is difficult unless you do things at a very local level. Mind you – the experience of COVID has moved us very quickly into using more online tools such as Zoom or Google, and it is amazing how well it works. So it might be feasible to do interviews with PWD in their own homes (depending on the disability). I would imagine the most useful technique would be some form of qualitative evaluation – most significant change, etc. – rather than trying for large scale quantitative evaluation (as you are unlikely to collect enough data for that).

      Anyway – good luck in collecting the info. I will watch with interest.

      Best wishes, Pamela