A three-part recipe for strengthening evaluation capacity

This is the first International Year of Evaluation. Those of you who are evaluators know all about it: thanks to EvalPartners, evaluation associations and societies at the national, regional and international level, a lot of work has already gone into preparing the many events that will take place.

It is a year to emphasize how important evaluation is to achieving development goals. Measurement and evaluation, being "€œright on time" to make mid-course corrections and to rethink concepts, are crucial if we are to learn from the past for a better future. This is particularly important as the world moves from the Millennium Development Goals, adopted 15 years ago, to the Sustainable Development Goals.

This year will also see a heightened call for and commitment to developing evaluation capacities in partner countries. As argued in my blog Where Will Be in 20 Years from Now, I think it's essential that we think about development processes as intrinsic to any county's development - rather than a function of aid - and that decision-makers should be empowered with evidence to make better informed decisions.

But, the year of evaluation also puts a burden on evaluation: we will need to demonstrate that we actually make a difference!

After spending more than 25 years evaluating whether development interventions achieved their objectives, I believe we should hold ourselves to the same standards, and learn those lessons so that those seeking to establish or expand their evaluation functions have a better go at it.

I have a simple recipe - with three ingredients -€“ for making sure we do just that:

Making strategic choices: This means having clear objectives about what we are trying to influence through evidence from evaluation and, based on that, choosing to evaluate those areas that will make the biggest difference.

Evaluation methods: By continuously investing in advancing how we generate evidence we can influence policies and actions and have a greater positive effect on people, including

  • Equity-focused methods to shed light on how best to eradicate poverty and boost shared prosperity in ways that are sustainable;
  • Using insights from  behavioral economics to develop methods for understanding why certain things happen but also to reflect on our own behaviors and biases as evaluators;
  • Complexity theories that call for methods that capture effects outside a linear development trajectory; and
  • Leveraging technological advances to generate data more efficiently while guarding against potential biases

Sharing Knowledge: Getting smarter in using knowledge from evaluation in debates, decision-making, or design choices, creating lessons that are heard and learned, be it through better ways of packaging them, more targeted outreach to the people who matter, and getting them the right information at the right time.

Of course, all of this is only possible if we continuously invest in developing the evaluation profession. By growing the skills and knowledge of people, through experience, exchanges, as well as more formal training, we can better develop systems that track the outcomes that we achieve.

It's a rich agenda for the year -€“ one that has benefited from the many comments we received when seeking your inputs on what should be our top priorities for the blog. By sharing how we at IEG continuously invest in making sure we make a difference, I hope that we will help those of you who are investing in creating or strengthening your evaluation capacities during this International Year of Evaluation.



Submitted by Barbara Bruns on Thu, 01/22/2015 - 06:13

Very well said, Caroline. However, it would be nice if you acknowledged explicitly that evaluation in the WB does not = IEG. In fact, the greatest scope for generation of new knowledge about strategically important, innovative, development interventions comes when we build rigorous prospective impact evaluations into new Bank operations. It would also be nice if you could help those of us on the front lines who are trying to do this get additional funding for it!! Virtually every $ the "knowledge bank" invests in rigorous impact evaluation today is funded by donor trust funds, rather than (a crucial part of) our core business.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Sun, 02/01/2015 - 02:51

In reply to by Barbara Bruns

Barbara, you are right: the World Bank Group does a lot of evaluations outside IEG. And, yes, impact evaluations are an important part of the spectrum of evidence that needs to be brought to bear on learning, decision-making, and mid-course corrections. In our Evaluation of Impact Evaluations (http://ieg.worldbankgroup.org/Data/reports/impact_eval_report.pdf) we recommended, among other things, that funding from multiple source should be pooled to overcome weakness that arise from fragmented funding and to ensure resources are used in strategic ways. I believe progress is being made in this respect.

Submitted by Lawrence Wasse… on Thu, 01/22/2015 - 00:16

As one who has worked 25 years in development this subject could be responded to with 10+ pages as to observation and participation regarding evaluation. This is not ONLY W Bank and Asian Development Bank, USAID etc. Just a few responses 1. Capacity building to conduct evaluation in foreign government with appropriate training on those that are involved in project evaluation 2. Resources NOT available to conduct evaluation 3. INAPPROPRIATE time allowed to conduct evaluation inside project and oversight 4. Evaluation methods appropriate in measurement 5. After evaluation is the recommendations instituted? 6. MANY MORE FROM THE COMMUNITY REVIEWERS!

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Thu, 01/29/2015 - 04:01

In reply to by Lawrence Wasse…

Lawrence, thanks for the interesting comments, obviously based on a lot of experience. We actually house the multi-donor CLEAR initiative that is supporting a network of institutions in client countries that drive the evaluation capacity development agenda. For the many other questions: yes, I recognize these challenges and have faced them to different degrees. There are, sometimes, solutions, but overall the issue of having to managing within tight budgets and timeframes is a reality we need to live with.

Submitted by Nguyen Hoai on Thu, 01/22/2015 - 02:44

It would be nice if you add a word "Optimising" in front of "Evaluation methods" at the beginning of the second recipe. It should read as "Optimising evaluation methods". hoainguyen1953@yahoo.com

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