2015 is the year in which global leaders and the community at large define their vision for a better world in 2030: a world of greater prosperity, greater equality and inclusion, and greater resilience against climate change. An ambitious vision that will need to reconcile conflicting demands of growth, equity, and the environment.

For evaluation and evaluators, the evolving scenario has a number of implications including the need to:

  • develop and enhance evaluation capacities in all countries around the world;
  • adapt evaluation to complex, dynamic systems; and of course, the need to
  • address issues intrinsic to the growth of the evaluation profession itself.

Recently, I attended the Financing for Development summit in Addis Ababa where global leaders agreed on a global framework for financing sustainable development. More than ever before, significant emphasis is being placed on the role of governments in development. Compared to 15 years ago, client countries have substantially more domestic public resources at their disposal. And they will have even greater spending power by 2030.

Domestically funded development programs will give further impetus to local evaluation capacity development.  Governments will want to better understand what their programs have achieved, and how to improve them. And, there is increasing public demand for accountability. Enhanced evaluation capacities have the potential to empower governments and citizens to understand the value and effects of publicly funded programs.

This shift in focus from aid to government programs, regardless of the source of funding or partner, also opens the opportunity to move the evaluative gaze beyond public sector investments. If properly developed, evaluation can be used to identify and weigh evidence of the development outcomes associated with private sector, global partnerships, and their partners' policies beyond aid.

The last ten years have witnessed a great uptake of evaluation in partner countries. Concerted efforts are needed to further develop evaluation capacities, particularly given the challenges that evaluation itself needs to overcome to be fit for the future.

In my view, the three most significant challenges for evaluation that derive from the SDGs and climate change agenda are:

  • Firstly, the dynamic nature of development challenges and the new goals. This will require evaluative thinking to be embedded in day-to-day conversations and actions. And evaluation practice will have to evolve to better assess adaptation, including changing objectives.
  • Second, complexity of development challenges. Evaluation (as much as development) needs to grow beyond simple models of causality (like logframes or results chains). Capturing multidirectional effects will be difficult with our current tools and approaches. But, new technologies and Big Data are promising to help in these endeavors.
  • And finally, embedded in the new development agenda are tensions between different goals. Tough trade-offs will have to be made. To start with, development partners will have to develop tools to determine how to value these trade-offs. Likewise, evaluation methods will need to determine whether the right choices were made to achieve outcomes that may, possibly, be in conflict.

Then there are issues intrinsic to the evaluation profession. They have to be addressed to ensure evaluation is fit for the future. Such issues are not the sole responsibility of evaluation itself, but they do provide opportunities through which evaluation can provide transformational leadership.

Let me start with the most difficult first: values. Policy-makers, citizens, and evaluators all have stimulated strong commitment to measurement. And that's great! Measurement embeds what we value. If we want to live in a more inclusive world, it needs to be a world that recognizes diversity in value systems. This is even more so for intrinsic but diverse values like gender-equality, cultural diversity, and the like. We e-Value-ate and, as such, have the opportunity to open a discussion about values in the post-2015 world.

Second: incentives. There is also a need for the profession to make a much greater, conscious effort to promote metrics (used for evaluation purposes) that incentivize "right" behaviors. Will metrics invite people to "game the system" or, instead, to take a hard look at what is working and fix what's not? If evaluation is to be embedded into daily business and be effective, we have to get these incentives right. As evaluators, we have to become more deliberate about our power to influence behaviors.

Finally: effectiveness. Evaluators need to better demonstrate the difference that evaluation makes. Maybe 15 or 30 years ago, evaluation was novel and generally assumed to be "good." But, we have learned a lot in the intervening years, including a lot about the danger of poor quality evaluations that can affect decisions and reputation in ways that many other professions cannot.

To sum up, 2015 is an extraordinary year. The seeds of promise for a better world by 2030 have been planted. Of course, the greater the opportunity, the greater the challenge. For evaluation, none of the challenges are easy. They will need to be addressed and taken on by deliberate, dedicated, and sustained efforts on the part of the global evaluation community.


Submitted by Fidel Odey on Tue, 09/08/2015 - 05:14

Thank you Carol. Governments (particularly those of developing countries) certainly need greater grips on the subject and practice of evaluation. Like monitoring, institutionalizing evaluation has equally been a huge challenge and here I see a gap in a focused and objective partnership between the academia and public authorities. This is where the knowledge and support of the IEG becomes relevant, and this support has to happen quickly to set the tone not only the future, but also for the professionalization and institutionalization of evaluation as a development practice among countries.

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