Lee Sutton is the Senior Advisor for Monitoring and Evaluation at the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), where she works across all programs to improve M&E throughout the organization. Lee brings extensive M&E experience on humanitarian, stabilization, transition, and development projects, with a focus on conflict and post-conflict environments. She has worked extensively in Africa (DRC, Burundi, Chad, Ghana, Mali, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya), Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and the Middle East (Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and Yemen). She has previously worked for MEASURE Evaluation (2009-2011), International Medical Corps (2011-2014), Creative Associates (2014-2016), and AECOM International Development (2016-2017). Lee holds an MA in Sustainable International Development from the Heller School at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and a BA in International Political Economy from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.
Today, we ask Lee about her life as an evaluator and more:
Tell us a little about yourself and your professional journey. How did you get involved in evaluation and what inspired your career?
I accidentally got into evaluation – I definitely didn’t have a grand plan. In grad school, I took one short M&E course that I frankly didn’t find particularly interesting. My first post-grad school job was actually an M&E job, but by another name. During this job, the organization received the largest grant in its history and needed to develop a data collection system to track the results of grant activities. This task fell to me and through developing and implementing the system, I was convinced of the power of data. From that time, I knew I wanted to work on helping organization measure results and use data to make decisions.
The Center for Civilians in Conflict envisions a world where parties to armed conflicts recognize the dignity and rights of civilians, prevent civilian harm, protect civilians caught in conflict, and amend harm. Where and how does monitoring, evaluation and learning fit into the picture?
MEL has a hugely important role to play in terms of helping CIVIC understand if we are meeting our organizational goal of protecting civilians in conflict. The challenge is so great and CIVIC is a relatively small organization, so MEL in crucial to help us understand the progress we’re making. We’ve made great strides toward better understanding which of our approaches are the most effective and where and how civilians are experiencing improved protection due to our work.
How do you define success and/or what is your philosophy of failure?
Success is hearing my colleagues talk about the importance of MEL, particularly learning from their work!
How do you plan to, or currently, promote equity in your evaluation work?
Equity in evaluation is something that is an ongoing journey and we can all always do better to include more equity in our work. While all understanding the importance of including equity in our evaluation practice, I think understanding how to best operationalize its inclusion is an issue we’re just being to address. A first step is understanding what data disaggregations are needed, gathering that disaggregated data, and analyzing that disaggregated data. This analysis can help us work toward improved equity in our work.
What advice do you have for young, transitioning and/or emerging evaluators?
a. Understand how to translate theoretical MEL approaches into practical approaches that can be applied in the field.
b. The importance of mixed methods approaches to understand the ‘so what’ of activities/results/projects.
c. Be ready, willing, and able to meet people wherever they are on their MEL journey and then help them build from there.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your personal life? What challenges, opportunities, sorrows, and joys has it brought to you?
I am a bit of a gym rat (and also an instructor) and COVID has forced all of my workouts from the gym to home, but I’m fortunate to belong to a strength and conditioning gym that provides a full home workout program. I love to travel, which has all been essentially on pause since March. Fortunately, I was able to take a long vacation in December!
One of the joys of this time has been reconnecting with a large group of my college friends for bi-weekly Zoom chats – with everyone being so busy and spread from coast to coast, the quarantine provided us an opportunity to have a routine catch-up, which has been really great.
What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?
I qualified to compete in the USA Weightlifting Master’s National competition this year! It was scheduled for April in Orlando, and then rescheduled for September, and ultimately cancelled. But I was happy to have achieved my goal of qualifying to compete!