Expert Interview
Sophie Amili


Mainstreaming gender across Coffey’s evaluation and research programmes

Sophie Amili is a Consultant in Coffey’s Evaluation and Research Practice in London. She is an experienced researcher, with expertise designing gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation systems and carrying out gender analysis across a range of thematic areas, including women’s economic empowerment, livelihoods, and gender and conflict. She also co-leads the Gender Team, which brings together gender specialists from across practices in the company. Her recent work includes working on the endline evaluation of the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund.

When and why did gender work become an area of focus for you?

I’ve always been interested in gender and social norms. My MSc in Gender, Globalisation and Development at the London School of Economics taught me to engage critically with concepts in development and view them through a gendered lens. It encouraged me to view development not in a vacuum, but through the full human experience: through individual histories, bodies, and lived experiences. For me, this underlines the need for an intersectional approach to gender – thinking through the ways in which our experiences are shaped not only by our gender, but by our multiple and overlapping identities such as our race, able-bodiedness, and sexual orientation, for example. In recent years, we’ve seen donors like DFID begin to drive forward an intersectional approach to gender programming, which has been really encouraging for me, and reflects longstanding thinking among women’s groups and women’s organisations.

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How do you bring gender work into your role as an evaluation & research specialist?

As an evaluator, a large part of my role is asking questions to understand how programmes work in practice, and the level and type of impact that they have. I have to ask questions about the relevance and effectiveness of programmes on different marginalised groups. To do this, I need to be able to ask the right sorts of questions in order to identify the barriers that different marginalised groups face, and assess the extent to which projects overcome those in their design and implementation. This is a key component in ensuring that gender is mainstreamed throughout the programme and evaluated accordingly. For me, it is equally important, however, that research and evaluation projects are themselves sensitive to the needs and experiences of different groups. This means ensuring that the research adheres to Do No Harm principles, taking into account constraints faced by different research participants, and minimising the burden on them as far as possible.

What are the biggest challenges to gender mainstreaming in the countries in which we work and how do you envisage approaching them?

As an evaluator, my work is inherently diverse. My projects vary by context and thematic area. This means that the barriers faced by different marginalised groups – and the sorts of questions we need to ask in our evaluations – can vary depending on whether we are evaluating a water, sanitation & hygiene project or an education project, for example. One of the greatest challenges we face is determining the right questions to ask, in a way that is relevant to each of the different contexts in which we work. We’re fortunate that we are able to draw on the expertise of our highly skilled local consultants who are able to identify the underlying key issues in a given context. As co-lead of Coffey Europe’s Gender Team, I’m really pleased that we have also launched our gender marker at Coffey, which we’ve developed in line with OECD-Development Assistance Committee guidance. The marker helps us assess all of our projects to ensure we are fulfilling our commitment to making every project – across all our practices – gender sensitive at a minimum. I’m really looking forward to building on the support and engagement from our Senior Management Team and continuing to roll this out across the company.

How are we working with our clients to build gender [equity] into their programmes and outputs?

We work very closely with our clients from the get go to help them develop their theories of change and think through the relevant gender considerations in their program design to develop a robust research and evaluation framework. There is a strong emphasis on regular monitoring and learning, to ensure that programs can adapt and respond to what works when it comes to reducing gender inequalities. Our bespoke data collection tool, COSMOS, is a great way of gathering this evidence securely and efficiently, meaning we are able to share findings and recommendations with our clients in real-time.

In five years’ time, what would you like to see as an impact of your work?

I’d like us to continue encouraging and supporting our clients in how they understand and view the importance of gender. It’s great that there has been a shift in thinking on gender and social inclusion from a tick-box exercise to a central feature of programme design – but we think there’s room to be even more ambitious! And we’re ready to support them as they consider new ways of making their programs more inclusive, drawing on robust evidence for what works, for whom, and in what contexts.