A Pivotal Year for Monitoring and Evaluation
Building and improving monitoring and evaluation capacity worldwide is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals within ten years.
As the ten-year countdown toward the Sustainable Development Goals begins, systems to track progress and measure the impact of policies are now more important than ever. Monitoring and evaluation have evolved significantly as professional practices and can deliver invaluable evidence on what is working and what is not, but a major effort is needed to ensure all countries are able to share in the benefits. Many countries, particularly in low-income and lower middle-income parts of the world, still lack the capacity for monitoring and evaluation which risks holding them back and must be addressed if we are all to reach the Sustainable Development Goals together.
In our engagement with partner countries we have witnessed widespread awareness of the urgency of the problem, and a commitment to tackling it. The Independent Evaluation Group organized a conference in September of last year with representatives of 44 African countries to discuss the gap in capacities. Every country represented was keen to learn from global experience, and many sought support for a country-wide diagnosis of their systems of monitoring and evaluation as a first step toward designing plans to strengthen and expand them.
We have received similar calls for support from countries in Asia and Latin America. Yet while there is momentum, coupled with substantial progress, the stark fact remains that only one third of governments around the world have data and systems to track the implementation of their national development strategies. This is a severe handicap for effective policymaking as it makes it very hard to use evidence to support better public decision-making or to account for the effectiveness of those decisions. It also stands in the way of learning from experience and using the lessons to adjust course, scale or target public policies more effectively.
There are a wide variety of initiatives aimed at supporting better monitoring and evaluation, and some show real promise, but their impact and sustainability can be diluted by a lack of scale, a focus on projects rather than systems, and limited coordination. There is also a need now for more programs of support that look beyond knowledge transfer.
The World Bank Group recently announced a record-breaking US$82 billion in new commitments for its fund that leads the fight against extreme poverty, the International Development Association (IDA). This unprecedented support for the next three-year cycle will allow IDA to start the decade with an ambitious set of goals aimed at building the momentum toward both the World Bank Group’s mission of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The new commitments will fund diverse programs to meet the varied needs of the almost 500 million poor people that live in IDA countries. Many of these countries, however, are among those that lack effective systems of monitoring and evaluation. IDA is committed to supporting institutions and building capacity to reduce gaps in core data for evidence-based policy making and to radically improve results measurement, but there remains a risk that weaknesses in monitoring and evaluation capacity could work against the ambitious commitment to results, and in turn slow the momentum toward the 2030 goals.
The development community—both local and international—is responding to this challenge. There are a wide variety of initiatives aimed at supporting better monitoring and evaluation, and some show real promise, but their impact and sustainability can be diluted by a lack of scale, a focus on projects rather than systems, and limited coordination. There is also a need now for more programs of support that look beyond knowledge transfer. While transferring experience and knowledge on best practices is vital, effective monitoring and evaluation needs to be adapted to each specific context. What works in one place may not necessarily be applicable or work in another. This is especially true for countries experiencing fragility, where an ability to monitor and assess complex, local dynamics is critical for the design and effectiveness of policies that contribute to broad based growth and ultimately stability.
Even in stable settings, it is essential to understand the heterogeneous needs of diverse populations and to evaluate the impact of policies drawing on, among other things, local and indigenous data and knowledge. Understanding the needs of differently vulnerable populations is particularly important, and regular evaluations are a way of ensuring that no one is left behind; one of the guiding principles of the Sustainable Development Goals. Support for adapting best practices to local contexts will require a focus on country-level systems. Along with building data capacity, developing countries will need help with everything from building the right institutions to training a cadre of evaluation professionals to staff them, to adapting frameworks for monitoring and evaluation for the local context.
In line with its mandate, the Independent Evaluation Group has worked on programs to address the gap in monitoring and evaluation capacity. Together with a group of partners, we established the CLEAR initiative which has been helping share knowledge and build capacity through its network of six regionally embedded hubs spread across the world. Over the last five years, the initiative has run almost 300 training programs that have reached over 72,000 people. Parts of the CLEAR network have also been working to support a more system-wide approach to monitoring and evaluation. This has involved working directly with governments to respond to their specific requests.
We are also helping to train the next generation of evaluation professionals through the International Program for Development Evaluation Training. Managed jointly with the University of Bern and Saarland University, the program brings together evaluation professionals from around the world for courses on the knowledge and skills that are the foundation of effective monitoring and evaluation. With the Sustainable Development Goals on the horizon, however, we are aware of the need to pivot these efforts beyond knowledge and skills development alone.
The same ambition that IDA will bring toward building the momentum toward 2030 is needed for national systems of monitoring and evaluation. A focused and sustained push is needed to accelerate their development in ways that are compatible with local efforts to understand what works and why. This is a pivotal year for meeting this need, but the demand far outstrips the resources of any single institution. Broad partnerships leading coordinated efforts will be critical for delivering the level and type of support required. The Independent Evaluation Group is committed to working with partner countries, local and international development organizations and donor countries to build a global partnership focused on ensuring all countries are equipped with the vital tools of monitoring and evaluation.
We will report back on the progress of these efforts throughout this year, so please stay tuned.
UPDATE: In November of 2020, the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) was launched. GEI is an inclusive partnership responding to the global demand for better Monitoring & Evaluation by bringing together government, citizens, and experts to support countries in strengthening evaluation and monitoring systems and capacities. Learn more about the Global Evaluation Initiative.