Learning how to be a GEMSE practitioner

Applying the GEMSE framework to development evaluation is an emerging practice.  Even for us, the GEMSE developers. We are learning how to be GEMSE practitioners through the generous use of real live evaluations being managed by different UN agencies. Two of these living examples of ‘learning how it’s done as we go along’ are feeding into the drafting of a UN Concept Note and in the drafting of an evaluation’s Terms of Reference. We will discuss the former in this blog and focus on our experience with the TOR next time.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term a Concept Note is a short description of a project idea, such as a program that needs funding. Concept notes are also prepared to explain the value of doing a program evaluation. Several months ago, UN Women sent out a call for expressions of interest to pilot the GEMSE Guidance open to any UN or partnering organisation, and in so doing, the net was cast broad and wide. We are delighted by the response we received as organisations see the potential relevance of the GEMSE approach to their projects in ways not immediately apparent to us!

Moving forward with one such agency, we entered into a ‘thought partnership’ with the Evaluation Manager. As a process this has involved us talking with the agency about their evaluation’s intentions, reading background material on the agency’s role and key responsibilities and analysing the Concept Note through the GEMSE criterion for analysis which are:

To be responsive to:

  • Gender
  • Ecological landscapes
  • Marginalized voices


  • Selecting appropriate method/ologies

In order to promote:

  • Social change

We provided a written response to the Evaluation Manager: a cover email containing our key thoughts and the attached Concept Note peppered with what we certainly hope would be helpful comments to promote her thinking about the potential of the evaluation, its scope, objectives and theory of change. The evaluator found this to be a constructive exercise and absorbed several suggestions in her final Note. The exercise has assisted her to think differently about the TORs she is now putting together – but that’s a story for another blog.

This exercise has honed our knowledge of how the GEMSE criteria can be applied. What thinking systematically and systemically means in practice and how to open up conversation about boundaries with people who might not have used the language of systems thinking in the past. We hope also to include these lessons in the Guidance to pass on this capacity building and teach others how to be a GEMSE practitioner.

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