As the long-running debate continues in this year of evaluation, we ask if the time has come to professionalize.

About 25 years ago, when I became a full-time evaluator, evaluation journals like the American Journal of Evaluation  frequently featured articles about the need to professionalize evaluation, and regularly discussed the merits of various accreditation systems and approaches to credentialing.

Now, all those years later, the debate continues. Some countries, most notably Canada, have moved on and have set up such systems. Elsewhere, professional associations at national, regional, and global levels have agreed on evaluation competencies as a foundation for professional standards.

The question is: are we now ready for the next step towards professionalization?

Looking at other professions it is quite easy to understand why professionalization is important. Would you want to attend a doctor and follow his advice if you were not confident he had the right qualifications? Would you hire a lawyer to defend you if you were unsure about her qualifications, and professional standing? In fact, absent the required accreditation, neither the doctor nor the lawyer could lawfully practice in most countries.

The rationale for professionalization is fairly simple: it legitimizes practitioners and aims to ensure that those using a professional service or taking professional advice can be sure of a certain minimum standard (or at least have defined recourse if the service is deficient). This provides a level of protection from potentially significant damages that may be associated with bad advice and malpractice.

The same level of risk is not as apparent for the consumers of evaluation. In fact, a perennial concern among practitioners is that our advice is often ignored, and does not, often enough, lead to desired learning and change. This observation and experience might possibly tempt us to underrate the risk associated with poor evaluation practice, and poor evaluations.

But, we should never under-estimate the consequences of poor quality evaluation. I know from experience and through colleagues - both in the evaluation field and on the operational side - that the risks and consequences are very real. The risks associated with poor evaluation quality, whether because of inadequate design, processes, or reporting, have first level effects on the evaluation office itself (efforts to rectify an evaluation gone awry can be an incredible drain on resources), and on the program or institution whose interventions have been evaluated, where ill-informed evaluations can damage reputation and lead to wrong decisions.

To ensure we "get it right" we have systems in place for quality assurance (including external evaluations of our work, client surveys, and a robust results framework), and we place a premium on the professionalism of our evaluators - which brings me back to the question of professionalization.

Like others, the World Bank Group adopted professional competencies for evaluators and created a work stream to help bring professionals together from evaluation and related fields to support professional development and networking. A great step in the right direction. 

But professionalization will take more. The established professions, like the ones I mentioned earlier, have some features in common that provide food-for-thought:

  • There is an established stream through the tertiary education system that each member of the profession has  to complete;
  • The profession requires that new graduates practice in close collaboration and under the supervision of more experienced practitioners;
  • There are strong, recognized professional associations that enforce and reinforce standards, and for some professions require regular training to update knowledge and skills;
  • Legislation is in place that sets out requirements and provides the basis for legal recourse in the case of malpractice;

Most of these professions are practiced within a country and are governed by national requirements. If, say a doctor, wants to move from one country to another, very often he or she will need new and different accreditation, including additional studies or tests to qualify.

The auditing profession operates globally and is a good comparator for evaluation. In that case, the profession established the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) more than 50 years ago.

However, there are important differences between the two professions. For example, unlike auditors, evaluators come from many different disciplines, subscribe to diverse methods, and can embrace different value systems. That diversity is both positive and essential to effective evaluation, but it makes it more complicated to codify professional standards, let alone introduce full professionalization.

Clearly there'€™s more thinking and work to do. And I will be giving this subject more thought over the coming weeks as I prepare to present at a conference in Germany on the future of training and further education in evaluation. Why not help me out and let me know what you think should be the next steps?


Submitted by Julia on Tue, 04/28/2015 - 00:25

Hello, I just started working in the field of project evaluation and I'm considering doing a master on monitoring and evaluation. I'd like recommendations of the best master programmes in that field. Would you have some recommendation? Thank you!

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 06:09

In reply to by Julia

Many thanks, Julia. You are asking an important question, but I am not sure there is a "clearing house" that provides this kind of information. A question (rather than a response) comes to my mind: should such a "clearing house" become part of a system to professionalize evaluation? How would we make it work?

Submitted by Verena Friedrich on Tue, 06/16/2015 - 06:07

In reply to by Julia

Hi Julia, we regularly collect some information about evaluation study programmes in Europe, see I think the American Evaluation Society also lists the American programmes. Best, Verena

Submitted by Jacques Myburgh on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 01:32

This is the absolutely the right thing to do. Just note that the effort required for this kind of project is way more than you might plan for in the start-up phase. Learn from other professional bodies about their planning and implementation, what worked and what did not, before beginning your own. Also, as evaluators, use these competencies of the industry to ensure proper impact evaluation and planning. This will make all the difference in conceptualizing, designing and acceptance of professionalizing.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 06:05

In reply to by Jacques Myburgh

Jacques, many thanks for these ideas. And yes, I agree that planning and managing evaluations are professional skills that are sometimes overlooked, but can make all the difference in how well an evaluation is done and how successful it can be.

Submitted by Marelize Gorgens on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 04:16

The world of project management has gone through much of the same professionalisation metamorphosis about 3 decades ago. Project management 'suffers' from the same existential crises as evaluation: a core set of skills that need to be applied across different 'knowledge / subject fields (sectors), each with its own set of know-hjow about how to do evaluations well in that particular knowledge/subject field, without a specific academic qualification in that field. The project management industry went through a global knowledge compilation and accreditation process by creating a PMBOK (Project Management BOdy of Knowledge) with an organising framework for fields in the PMBOK, and a global accreditation process that consists of on-the-job learning and academic training and a skills profciciency test, with the need to upkeep registration on an annual basis by showing proficiency and ongoing involvement in the field. Today, PMP is a recognised qualification to add as a recognised qualification to a person's name (much akin to a PhD). Some employers will even stipulate in job applications -- 'only PMPs can apply.' In summary: I think that the evaluation profession should move towards professionalisation and that the PMP model is an excellent learning ground to figure out how to do so.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 06:04

In reply to by Marelize Gorgens

Marelize, terrific advice. Many thanks for this concrete example that is very helpful for learning from others. We certainly will take that into account as we discuss the next steps.

Submitted by Kim on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 05:36

Dear IEG, Moving towards a creditation or professionalization of evaluation is very important as already explained, and I strongly support this initiative. Since the WBG is one of the strongest institutions that provides assistance for sustainable development, and also takes the lead on this matter, it should kick off the ball by establishing, in consultation with credible evaluation practitioners, basic standards for professional evaluators for which every praticidioner who wants to be certified should apply for and be assessed against. In addition to this, the WBG should also simultaneously develop post graduate program on development evaluation and management with full scholarship at least for those practicioners from developing countries. Last but least, raiding and promoting the awareness of the standards should be followed... Thanks Kim Sokleang Former M&E officer with IFC Cambodia office

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Fri, 05/01/2015 - 00:06

In reply to by Kim

Kim, many thanks for your confidence in suggesting we play a lead role in this sphere. From my perspective, it is essential to bring a lot of stakeholders into the dialogue, as there are many open questions that can be answered very differently, depending on the position one holds. The excellent contributions and questions in response to our blog speak of that, and that's just a start.

Submitted by Kylie Hutchinson on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 05:38

As an evaluator going on 30 years of experience and someone who went through the CES credentialing process in Canada early on, I can say that it was an extremely positive experience for me as an evaluator. While the application process was a bit daunting at first, I found it to be a very valuable exercise that forced me to reflect on my existing skills and experience and clearly highlighted areas to focus my ongoing professional development. Although those who commission evaluation projects in Canada have been slower than anticipated to request this qualification from proponents, this is changing slowly over time. James Coyle and I had an interesting chat with Jean King on this topic on our Adventures in Evaluation podcast back in 2012, you might want to check it out.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Thu, 04/30/2015 - 06:09

In reply to by Kylie Hutchinson

Kylie, many thanks for your reflection. Sounds like another good reason for professionalization. For some practitioners, the process might be too daunting, or time-consuming (foregone income?). Any thoughts on that? Thanks, also for sharing the podcast. I started listening, but had just too busy a day. Will get to it later.

Submitted by Elizabeth Danter on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 05:48

Thank you for highlighting this important topic and keeping the conversation going. For readers seeking additional information, the latest issue of New Directions for Evaluation (Altschuld & Engle, Spring 2015) explores the current trends on accreditation, certification, and credentialing for U.S. evaluators.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 06:38

In reply to by Elizabeth Danter

Thank you.

Submitted by Barbara Befani on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 08:20

If evaluators are "allowed" to come from many different disciplines, subscribe to diverse methods, and embrace different value systems, what do they have in common? Or rather, what should professional and competent evaluators have in common? All my thinking around professionalization has always stopped here, sadly, at this question. And so far, personally, I have been unable to find a satisfactory answer. In my view, most of what we call "bad quality evaluation" is simply "bad science": it doesn't follow methodological and scientific standards (sometimes including basic ones like logic and transparency; but also conceptual depth, accuracy, precision). In addition, value scales and rubrics (see "evaluation-specific logic) are often not made explicit. In brief, it seems to me that many useful standards are already there, followed by scientists and other experts, and I don't know exactly why sometimes they are not followed by evaluators. I might be wrong, but I suspect that trying to answer this question (why are known standards sometimes not followed) is easier than trying to answer the one above (what should good evaluators have in common). Good luck with your presentation.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Thu, 04/30/2015 - 06:06

In reply to by Barbara Befani

Barbara, many thanks for your reflections. I agree with you that evaluation and science have some things in common, but the challenge lies in "codifying" behaviors, or rather judgments around values. Jane Davidson has written some interesting things about values of different societies. For example, the Maori in New Zealand might "rate" and "evaluate" certain things very differently to, say, someone with a western education. I have heard similar things at AfrEA. But, even before getting to deeper cultural differences, disciplines like health, engineering or economics might not always agree on measurement systems, or professional conduct for that matter, which is at the core of professionalization.

Submitted by Kate McKegg on Wed, 04/29/2015 - 03:56

Hi Caroline, thanks for raising this clearly very topical issue for evaluation. Your question - 'Are we now ready for the next step towards professionalisation?' is extremely pertinent and one I would like to respond to. Professionalization is a process or journey that a discipline or field pursues for the purposes of: • building a specialized and unique body of knowledge • training professionals in the requisite skills, knowledge and expertise required to practice • developing principles, values and standards to ensure quality and safety of those working in the field or profession, as well as the general public • limiting or restricting entry to the field of practice to only those who are able to demonstrate the requisite knowledge, skills and expertise required – through some kind credentialing or licensing process • controlling the behaviour of qualified professionals • gaining and/or maintaining a certain standing or legitimacy in the labour market. I would argue that evaluation has made reasonable steps towards the first three of these purposes above (although even the body of knowledge is probably still contested to some degree), but perhaps not yet progressed to the other purposes. The journey towards professional status is a highly contested and negotiated process, played out through a series of complex inter-relationships with the state, clients in the market, practitioners, tertiary institutions, communities etc. The drivers of professionalization are generally both internal to the field (i.e., the aspirations of practitioners themselves) as well external (from the state as well as commissioners and funders or clients in the market). And this would be true of evaluation also. There is a long history of the study of professions and it indicates that to achieve the status of a profession, evaluation would need to demonstrate a number of characteristics or criteria of professional status that are generally agreed need to be in place. Broadly speaking these include: • A specialized and unique body of knowledge, theory and skills – there needs to be access, for those wishing to gain entry to the profession, to high quality training and education; as well as exposure to practice, and the ability to gain mastery of techniques and skills in order to develop the requisite professional expertise to practice. I'm not sure many evaluators around the world have access to this. • A profession is also distinguished by having an ethical disposition, i.e., it sees itself as having a wider responsibility and orientation towards the public interest; i.e., it is not simply there to protect and further its own interests. This would be true of evaluation and the ethical principles that exist across the globe in different contexts attest to this. • A profession also has a high status credential – i.e., at the very least a graduate degree from an accredited tertiary education organization; as well as some form of professional designation or licensing that requires the testing of performance. This is true in only a very few places in the world currently. • A profession also has professional autonomy – i.e., control over the recruitment, training, admission, credentialing and licensing of its professionals. It also has control over the guidelines, ethical standards, administrative rules, quality assurance and disciplinary processes of those in the profession. This is not the case for evaluation. • Those in a profession should also demonstrate a loyalty to the occupational group; they are expected to demonstrate collegial behavior and occupational solidarity, as well as a visible and practical commitment to ongoing professional development as part of their responsibility for the quality of their work. The existence of a professional association representing these interests is also a key characteristic of a profession. I would argue that this is the most rapid development currently in evaluation, as the number of associations increase. • And finally, it is expected that a profession has a relatively high degree of prestige and status – i.e., there is demand for professional services; there are substantial monetary rewards, respectability and a recognized place in the upper regions of the occupational ladder for those in the profession. This is perhaps not always the case? On balance, I think I'd argue that evaluation is not yet a profession. Although there is growing interest and momentum in relation to evaluation professionalization – there appears to be very little deeper understanding about what might be required for evaluation to further professionalise, how well positioned – or not – it might be as a field to professionalise, whether professionalization is even necessary to maintain evaluation quality and legitimacy in the market place. e As a field, we don’t really know whether our current professionalization efforts are having any influence on the legitimacy of evaluation, or even if they are having any impact on the development of the field for the better. For example, Although the development of evaluation competencies and standards as a professionalization activity would appear to stimulate discussion and debate among those in the field, about their professional identity and practice, I’m not sure we know if having evaluation competencies and standards in place influences evaluation practice or the perceptions of evaluation’s legitimacy by funders and commissioners. If as a field we are to respond effectively to the pressures and drivers for professionalization, I feel we need to have a much deeper understanding of the theoretical and conceptual issues involved in professionalisation. Currently we appear to be responding in a rather localized way, without this. Some of the many unanswered questions about the project and journey of professionalisation I feel that would help us along the way might include: - How we might investigate, better understand and critique current professionalization activity, forms and policies? - What can we learn from the experience of other professions? Marelize's comment points to the opportunity to learn from others. - How prepared is the field for professionalization? For example, do we understand sufficiently well what the requisite evaluation skills, knowledge and behaviours are for professionalized evaluation practice? - What are the pros and cons of evaluation professionalisation? Thanks again for raising this, and I look forward to the conversation.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Sat, 05/02/2015 - 08:22

In reply to by Kate McKegg

Kate, many thanks for your thoughtful and incredibly useful contribution on the subject. It makes me think that we need to bring together a couple of professionals from around the world to deepen the conversation and explore how we can join hands to move the conversation forward. But then: that might already be happening somewhere. Let's hear from others and decide on what's next. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and connecting.

Submitted by Ivan Tasic on Tue, 05/05/2015 - 05:42

In reply to by Kate McKegg

Kate, this is a really great overview. Thank you!

Submitted by Donna on Fri, 05/01/2015 - 04:54

Thanks for this timely and important conversation. Kate's thoughts and questions resonate strongly with me. I am struck by the question of how prepared is the field for professionalisation? I am involved with the AEA process and the one in South Africa, and both are grappling with these and other questions. I find that my thoughts and considerations vary considerably depending on which group I am working with, as how I think about this varies within the context in which I am thinking. I think providing a clear pathway for becoming an evaluator is a good idea; I think ensuring good evaluation practice is a good idea; what that should look like and who decides this, and who holds that power to enforce it once it is decided, worries me. I like the many emerging competencies as they make me think about what can improve my own practice. At the same time I would not like the World Bank or any powerful organisation telling me what I need to know to be considered an evaluator, as ultimately this would be enforcing their values. How I value an evaluation is often very different. What also concerns me is how this process may limit our still emerging field. If we had an established profession, in say 1998, would we have encouraged Systems Thinking of Feminist Evaluation to be a part of what evaluators learn? Would they even have emerged? For me the conversation is still about what it means to be an evaluator.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Sat, 05/02/2015 - 08:33

In reply to by Donna

Donna, you echo my concerns: how do we hold the tension between developing the profession in ways that ensures certain standards but do so in ways that enables different values to be respected, appreciated, and celebrated, and makes the profession constantly grow. Would norms around a professional code of conduct that fosters this kind of professionalism be possible? What would they look like?

Submitted by Ryan Langrill on Mon, 05/04/2015 - 02:39

I think professionalization would damage the field of evaluation. Evaluation is an (everyday) activity that all organizations engage in, whether or not anyone has an official title. Good evaluation requires not just a knowledge of evaluative techniques, but distinct knowledge of time and place of that organization and its context. At best, the cost of formalizing evaluation (and possibly reducing bad evaluation through the knowledge of better methods) would be diminished resources to develop knowledge of the particular evaluative circumstances. If an educational evaluator spends an hour reviewing regression or interview techniques for some credential, that is an hour less she has to talk with teachers. Maybe that trade off is worth it--but a credentialing process, by its nature, can only value one type of knowledge and it would almost inevitably bias evaluation away from the contextual knowledge it cannot reward. I would second Donna's concern, for two reasons. The formalization that comes with credentialing establishes a canon of truth. While a canon can be somewhat inclusive of viewpoints, it cannot be as inclusive as the informal canon that currently exists. Second, formalization means that the canon changes, not through an evolutionary process, but through a bureaucratic process. Even if evaluators could successfully define what it means to be a great evaluator today, great evaluation changes with the world it evaluates. An informal profession is, I believe, much more flexible and will ensure that evaluation remains more useful to the world as it actually is at a given point in time. Finally--any credential is a barrier. It will filter out some bad evaluators, but it will also filter out evaluators whose value is not well measured by the credentialing process (but that a good manager could use to great effect), and it will filter out people with non-traditional skill-sets who are interested in evaluation. I fall into the latter--I only discovered the field of evaluation after finishing my Ph.D. If my job had required an evaluation credential, I would not have been able to apply and, with all likelihood, would not have entered the field of evaluation.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Tue, 05/12/2015 - 07:23

In reply to by Ryan Langrill

Ryan, thanks for sharing your views. I agree with you about the importance of understanding context and the flexibility and evolution to the profession – and professional practice – we get from the more informal arrangements that exist now in many parts of the world. But, I wonder whether it would not be possible to define the profession in ways that it actually embraces – and fosters – the kinds of things you mention: spending time on understanding context, or Donna’s points about different values, just to name two examples. And, whether professionalization could be built on a dynamic concept that keeps growing the profession and creating that dynamic tension that’s needed to constantly challenge established boundaries. I find the comments and exchanges on the blog really stimulating. Thanks for your thoughtful contribution.

Submitted by Ivan Tasic on Tue, 05/05/2015 - 03:27

Thank you for this challenging discussion. Colleagues raised many important issues regarding professionalization and I would like to add few more. I think that we have to be aware that professionalization of the evaluation cannot be seen as a global process. At least its dynamic cannot be the same in each part of the world. In many countries evaluation is relatively young and new discipline. In such, debate on the importance of the evaluation and its value has been opened recently. Priority is given to the international expertise and consultants. There are only few resources written on local languages; even basic local M&E trainings are rare; and most of the local expertise is gained through the work (learning by doing) but with no evaluation training behind. Demand for the evaluation is driven by international community and in the most cases it is a tick box activity. Finally, issues important for the improvement of the evaluation as a profession - professional standards, evaluation quality, ethics, etc. - are rarely (read never) discussed. In such context it is hard to properly professionalize the evaluation. I believe that we need some preconditions before we start the process. Kate made some great points about that. For me, these preconditions are on both, demand and supply side. On demand side, stakeholders from public and non-governmental sector have to be aware of the value and purpose of the evaluation. To understand why they need it. To see evaluation as a learning tool that will help them to improve their work, performance, decisions, policies etc. On supply side, we need to build some local body of knowledge that will include theoretical and practical components, and that will be open and accessible for all interested in evaluation (academics, practitioners, users etc). Basically, I believe that before professionalization we need a context where evaluation is needed, understood by stakeholders and one can learn about it and practice it even if she don't speak English. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world this is still not the case.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Tue, 05/12/2015 - 07:40

In reply to by Ivan Tasic

Ivan, many thanks for adding this dimension into the discussion. You make an important point where the “international development evaluation” profession is quite different from many other professions: it reaches across borders. Compare that with, say doctors or lawyers, who can practice in their country but need retraining and new accreditation when they move to another country. In some ways that is an opportunity – growing a global network of shared understanding – as much as a challenge to define professional behaviors that we as evaluators want to abide by. But, I am a bit more optimistic about local evaluation capacities. The last couple of years have seen an incredible push for growing the evaluation capacities: countries are demanding to know for themselves whether their investments are reaping the benefits they hoped for, have set up high-level evaluation functions (including ministries) like in Benin, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and Togo to name just a few, and evaluators are forming professional associations as a means of gaining professional recognition and sharing standards. And, a number of them are connecting to the demand-side for evaluation. For instance, a year or two ago high-level evaluators and policy-makers from Columbia, Peru, and Mexico met with their counterparts from Benin, South Africa, and Uganda to discuss how evidence from evaluation can support policy making. At the upcoming Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank, I will be facilitating a discussion that will involve two ministers of evaluation. Is it enough? Certainly not – there is great need and demand for more resources and training – but having such attention for evaluation and evidence-based policy making is a powerful ingredient to strengthen profession and practice.

Submitted by Jim Rugh on Wed, 05/06/2015 - 01:01

Thank you, Caroline, for launching this important blog-based discussion. I was especially impressed by the way you articulated your initial contribution. And now that I've read the following discussions, see that it has indeed generated some useful perspectives from a variety of colleagues. I want to point out to those interested in the topic of professionalization of evaluation that there is a parallel discussion going on on the IOCE website at (Included are several documents inventorying some of the existing initiatives.) The main questions leading that discussion have to do with whether or not the International Organization for Cooperation in Evaluation (IOCE) should play a role -- not necessarily in harmonizing professionalizing/credentialing/certification/accreditation, but in sharing what initiatives are going on by various Voluntary Organizations for Professional Evaluation (VOPEs) nationally, regionally and internationally, with a recognition (as some of the contributors to this blog have mentioned) that such standards might best be customized by each country. Yet the quest continues for common principles that distinguish the evaluation profession vis-à-vis research and the methods used by experts in many sectors that also are involved in commissioning or conducting evaluation. I invite readers of this blog to also check out and contribute to the discussion on the IOCE website.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Tue, 05/12/2015 - 07:44

In reply to by Jim Rugh

Jim, thank you so much for closing the loop and sharing your resources. Very helpful and a great way to bring the various strands together. I'm sure there are other discussions out there that we could link into. Thanks also for your nice feedback.

Submitted by V B Tulasidhar on Tue, 06/02/2015 - 04:41

Evacuators will have to maintain high standards of professionalism and ethical conduct. They also need to exercise good judgement, act and seen to be fair and unbiased, and maintain probity in public lives. These are the standards we expect from other professionals physicians, chartered accountants and lawyers etc. and all of them have professional bodies (often with statutory backing) to regulate their respective professions. Why not evaluators? I suppose this issue will progress fast if the ECG supports the initiative as part of its efforts to develop evaluation capacity in the member countries of MFIs

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Mon, 06/08/2015 - 04:40

In reply to by V B Tulasidhar

Many thanks, Tulsi, for your strong views about high levels of professionalism of evaluators. As you might know, IEG hosts the CLEAR Secretariat, an initiative supported by bilateral and multilateral donors and foundations to promote evaluation capacity development in client countries. It works through a network of partner institutions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Submitted by Kylie Hutchinson on Thu, 04/30/2015 - 07:09

I set aside two days to do the application (which of course was hard) but it was worth it. The CES system was online so you could complete a bit, save it, and re-visit later which I found handy. CES has just issued an RFP for evaluating the whole Credentialed Evaluator program, so it will be interesting to see the results of that later this year.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Fri, 05/01/2015 - 00:07

Many thanks for sharing your experience.

Submitted by Verena Friedrich on Thu, 06/18/2015 - 06:39

P.S. Of course I meant the American Evaluation Association. The link to the university programs is:

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