On My Mind: "When Will We Ever Learn?"
Is it surprising that evaluations keep surfacing many of the same issues?
Having been in evaluation for more than 30 years, the 'broken record' is disconcerting. The reaction we often get is that we don't see anything new; my response frequently has to be: it is the mistakes that are unnecessarily being repeated that necessitate that evaluators keep flagging them. The messages will 'go away' once learning has taken place.
Some of our regular readers will be familiar with the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) – a group that brings together some of the largest providers of international development assistance. For several years, IEG has been part of an evaluation network under DAC that meets regularly to exchange information, experiences and foster cooperation among the DAC member organizations.
At the last DAC EvalNet meeting, we discussed a synthesis of evaluations in refugee contexts, which the secretariat had prepared.
I was thrilled for two reasons: first, the synthesis of evaluations helps us identify common lessons and patterns that point to deeper, systemic issues that need resolving; and, second, in this case the synthesis findings had been presented to a policy-making body to inform their deliberations on setting out new policy guidance for responses to refugee crises. This guidance will now be rolled out, vetted, and adapted at operational level. What a great example for ensuring evaluation evidence is deliberately integrated into forward-looking policies and hopefully influence future decisions and practices.
However, what was frustrating was how many of the findings, lessons, and recommendations were repeating earlier ones. Having been in evaluation for more than 30 years, the "broken record" is disconcerting. The reaction we often get is that we don't see anything new; my response frequently has to be: it is the mistakes that are unnecessarily being repeated that necessitate that evaluators keep flagging them. The messages will "go away" once learning has taken place.
But, that does not absolve evaluators from making an effort to stimulate learning. At IEG, we have a whole range of activities to try to close the learning loop:
Will all of this be sufficient that we will eventually learn and change behaviors?
As shown in our evaluations of Learning in World Bank Operations and of the World Bank Group's self evaluation systems, more will be needed to create an environment that is safe for dealing with mistakes, that promotes learning, and embraces adaptive management and change.