From what works to how, and for whom
How we can better connect evaluation and evidence to meaningful outcomes.
The last decade has seen an enormous increase in the global knowledge base of what drives development success, with important contributions from evaluation practice. We have more data than ever before at our fingertips—quite literally in the palm of our hands! Increasingly sophisticated methods give us insights into ‘what works’ and an ability to sort through interventions that have a higher likelihood of success in certain conditions. Evaluation as a global professional practice has grown both in size and sophistication, with high quality approaches used to routinely generate insights.
Evaluation processes need to work across domains, consider competing theories of change, and integrate more effectively with monitoring to keep an eye on how outcomes are being achieved, where, and for whom.
Even with this progress we face a host of important challenges in international development that test our evaluation practices. The ongoing emergency in the Sahel, for example, where 4.2 million people have been uprooted, highlights how ongoing development challenges, from climate change and other man-made pressures, interconnect with emergencies that stretch across years, affecting urban concentration and economic and social inequalities. In this circumstance the risks and rewards of development interventions are shifting all the time. And if we ever doubted it before, we are now acutely aware that development problems are almost always interlinked and rarely amenable to simple solutions.
In settings where change is frequent and diverse, it is imperative that evaluation supports adaptation. Evaluation focused on immediate, anticipated change will not help us respond to the challenges of the Sahel region. Evaluation processes need to work across domains, consider competing theories of change, and integrate more effectively with monitoring to keep an eye on how outcomes are being achieved, where, and for whom. To stay relevant in rapidly changing environments, we need to build evaluation systems that are responsive to problems without clear ex ante solutions, analyze large amounts of data quickly, and to feedback lessons in a timely manner. Updating our practice challenges our more routine and institutionalized evaluation work, and compels us to think how we ourselves need to adapt.
While much of IEG’s core business remains relevant to the World Bank Group, we must continue to extend our practice beyond the building blocks of project results frameworks. Above all we need to ensure that we have meaningful ways to add-up what the World Bank is contributing to development outcomes, that we are adding value by addressing questions that connect most immediately to the way the World Bank Group engages, especially at country and, increasingly, at regional levels, as well as to the evolving needs of its clients.
Our latest work program is a first small step in this direction. The main ambition is to focus more systematically on the World Bank’s contribution to development outcomes. We are bringing back a focus on country change in building insights and lessons that help produce knowledge on the ‘how’ and ‘for whom’ as well as the ‘what’. We are planning to invest in data sources, methods and analytics that help us understand 21st century development problems differently, taking account of diverse and frequently changing contexts. We are finding ways to connect with end users and ensure that our findings consider both intended and unintended consequences of interventions. And last, but not least, we plan to reposition our program of evaluation capacity strengthening to ensure that the tools and support for the future of evaluation are firmly in the hands of client countries.
At almost 50 years old, IEG continues to adapt our practice in a rapidly changing world. We continue to build on the 1973 mandate to conduct high quality independent evaluation. Not all the changes highlighted here will be visible in the short run, we will need to rethink and retool while focusing on development imperatives. IEG is focusing on development outcomes, using innovative methodologies, supporting adaptation, and working with client countries. The direction of travel is set, and we look forward to updating you early next year.
Pictured above: female micro-entrepreneur in Aswan, Egypt. Photo: World Bank / Andy Trambly