Within the timeframe of the project, we will conduct two to three site visits at each implementing organisation. The first round of site visits is already finished and was done in the startup phase of the project. The next site visit will take place within the learning and support clusters where partners of each cluster are visiting each other to exchange experiences and to learn from one another. The participation of the evaluation team in these site visits will enable a deeper understanding of the implementation activities and related experiences so far. This site visit is therefore very informative for the evaluation team but also all the partners involved in the learning and support clusters. The third site visit will take place ten to eight months before the project ends and will focus on the achievements and learnings from the implementation processes.
Purpose of the site visits
In general, the purpose of the site visits is to collect data on the status quo of gender equality in each implementing organisation, on the implementation activities, related experiences of persons involved in this process and on the tangible outputs and outcomes of the implementation processes. During site visits, we conduct face-to-face interviews or discussions in smaller groups with people involved in the SPEAR projects but also with intra-organisational stakeholders like vice-rectors, deans, heads of departments, researchers or representatives of administrative units.
Beyond collecting data, the site visits are also serving other purposes. On the one hand, they are building trust and confidence for the accompanying evaluation. In most organisations, we have visited so far in the SPEAR project but also in other projects like GENERA or GARCIA the idea and benefits of evaluation were not clear to all project partners and how it fits into the idea of the project. The face-to-face interviews allow you to explain the purpose and objectives of the evaluation and people connect to a seemingly impersonal endeavour like an evaluation much more easily if they have a person to talk to and to ask questions. Therefore, these interviews are building trust within the implementing organisations on the objectives and benefits of participating in the accompanying evaluation.
Leveraging reflexivity and learning
Another benefit of the site visits and the semi-structured interviews is that they leverage reflexivity about gender (in)equalities in each implementing organisations. All interviewees need to think about gender (in)equalities and how to overcome them. This sometimes triggers new ideas or enables different perspectives on gender (in)equalities in each organisation.
Raising awareness and visibility
Furthermore, doing site visits and face-to-face interviews are beneficial for the implementation activities as it increases the awareness and visibility of the project and its objectives. In some cases, it is also a way to engage relevant stakeholders in the implementation activities. In this respect, the site visits also promote the relevance and status of the project as people often consider it as remarkable that external people are interested in their work and their views on gender (in)equalities in their organisations. This sometimes raises the prestige of the project within the implementing organisation and/or consolidates the commitment and interest of the organisations in the implementation activities.
But the site visits often comprise also informal conversations or meetings with different colleagues. These informal meetings before or after interviews, at lunch or dinner are not part of the data collection but they are important on the level of social relations as they facilitate establishing trustful collaborations. During these more informal meetings, it is possible to raise awareness about our approach to the evaluation. Namely, that it is not some kind of audit or performance assessment but a process to promote reflexivity and learning for each implementing organisation and among them.
Based on the feedback we have received so far and on our own experiences, we can summarize that the site visits are important for an accompanying evaluation in the sense that people involved in the project get a better understanding of the purpose and aims of the evaluation. And, most important, they are beneficial for the evaluators as well as the interviewees.