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28 April 2017
DRUSSA Fables: Muscles and bling Print
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 00:00
“You youngsters …,” Grandpa Impact pointed his cane to his grandson sitting across from him at the crackling fire. “Yes, you … All you care about is showing off your muscles and bling. Always wanting to impress. This new generation has lost the good old virtue of modesty.”
“But Grandpa,” Young Evaluator protested. “People need to be made to believe upfront that one 
has the goods to deliver. Nobody will invest in a project if it seems there`s not going to be much of a return. You need to impress.” Young Evaluator`s muscles rippled as he twisted the shiny diamond in his earlobe.
“Gone are the good old days,” Grandpa sighed. “Our generation, once we`ve made up our minds and settled down with someone, we never backed out later. Never! Even if the other party eventually failed to deliver on the full promise.”
“Things don`t work like that anymore, Grandpa. You don`t put money in a basket with holes and then give it to the weakest to carry. Money is less forgiving than love is. And don`t forget about accountability.”
The old man pointed his cane to the sky. “See those stars? Beautiful, aren`t they? Guess what. They`re stone dead. They died billions of years ago, long before earth even existed. Only now do we see their light, given the incredible distance it had to travel. For me that is true bling and true impact -- requiring true patience.”
“But Grandpa, one cannot wait forever for impact to materialise! And the comparison is unfair. The people whose projects I assess are star researchers, not dead stars in an infinite universe!”
The old man laughed. “You`re right, absolutely right. One needs to be sane. Find a balance between being impatient and waiting a billion years. Tell me, since one`s never too old to learn, how does one go about pumping iron and showing off muscles?” Grandpa Impact leaned forward, resting both hands on the cane.
“You need to set a strict routine. You ask them to complete this template, then that template. Systematically you guide them into exposing and covering all the holes in the figurative basket -- by means of logframes, risk analyses and so on. It`s as simple as that. And you guide them till they`ve done it exactly the way you want it to be. Once you`re convinced they have a really strong proposal and are practically shining on paper, you fund them.”
“It stops there?”
“No, you keep pushing the routine. Quarterly reports, annual reports, mid-term reports. You tick, you tick, you tick. All the boxes -- yes, they did this; no, they neglected that. You monitor and evaluate, you check for outputs and outcomes. You go beyond the life of the funded project, drifting into impacts. You keep on searching for evidence of compliance, appointing others to do the tracking, needs be. Eventually everyone is painfully aware of the single most important rule of the game.”
“Which is?”
“It`s all about the dollars, Grandpa, all about the dollars -- like in that Tina Turner song.” Young Evaluator started singing a fragment: “I`m your private dancer, a dancer for money. I`ll do what you want me to do …”

Dr Nelius Boshoff is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), University of Stellenbosch