EvalAfrica: Rethinking Development Evaluation

Evaluation is an essential instrument to improve quality and effectiveness of development interventions. It produces important knowledge on development, whose aim it is to generate changes in peoples’ lives. However, evaluation systems used in practice cannot deal with the complexities of development and do not provide information about change occurring in African societies. Evaluation focuses on projects, programmes or policies, but fails to provide information about societal development.

In its current form, evaluation does not look at development actors and the cumulative impact of multiple interventions. The increasing number of development actors, delivery mechanisms, fields of intervention and the increase in funding volumes has brought about a complex aid architecture. Recipient countries are under great pressure from donor requirements. Aid delivery has often been fragmented, with hundreds of requirements and conditions from donors for priorities and reporting. Evaluation does not take these problems into account but adds to the overall complexity.

Evaluations usually follow the intervention. All major donors have set up complex evaluation apparatuses to satisfy their learning and accountability needs. Conventional forms of evaluation, mandated and funded by development agencies, are now being challenged because of the influence the evaluation system, commissioners and evaluator’s interests have on the results of the evaluation. Evaluation should be conducted by the society itself and not donor-driven, and the interests of commissioners and evaluators should be included in the evaluation.

The “one-size fits all” approach of evaluation does not work. The last assessment on the implementation of the Paris Declaration states that country-specific dynamics are important in understanding development results and aid effectiveness.

The evaluation system should be carefully tailored to each country if it is to encompass societal change.

What are the challenges?

It is widely recognised by the international donor community that evaluation should be at the centre of a new reform process.

The reform agenda calls for evaluations to become results-oriented, country-led, coherent and co-ordinated. However, progress in this area has been slow, because there are no theoretical and methodological frameworks and few prior experiences on how to implement such systems.

Evaluation should look at society as a whole, not at fragmented projects or programmes. It should be integrated taking a comprehensive view of social, cultural, economic, political, technical dimensions, numerous donors and development actors (and their actions and objectives), and of the cumulative impact of the interventions these produce. Evaluation should be society-driven, allowing the “target” society to build its own development strategies and its own evaluation systems. In summary, the evaluation should look at societal change and treat all development projects and programmes as incoming resources for development.

Evaluation systems need a complete rethink, identifying their strengths and weakness by looking at the overall picture and not just at specific evaluations. There is a need for a new theoretical and methodological framework for integrated development evaluation and the instruments that will be used to guide its implementation in the field. The frameworks will be built by critical analysis of literature and of comparative case-studies in three countries.

For each country, concrete proposals as to how to set up integrated evaluation systems will be made.

Why is it important?

Important changes in aid policy and practice include the Paris Declaration, the Accra Agenda for Action and several High Level Forums. They created a commitment to improve the quality and the effectiveness of aid and increase the impact of aid in reducing poverty and inequality, increasing growth, building capacity and accelerating achievement of the MDGs.

The origin of this reform lie in the growing disillusionment with the failure of aid to bring about development as expressed by Eveline Herflens, Executive Coordinator of the UN Millennium Campaign:

The donor-led approach to development led to a raft of small uncoordinated donor projects, which-even when successful – hardly made a dent on development. They were tiny islands of perfection in oceans of despair, which collapsed back into the ocean once the donor left.”

Through evaluation, impacts of aid can be understood and it is through integrated valuation and planning that better development projects can be designed.

What are the important ideas?

(1) The evaluator and all other stakeholders should be considered as part of the process because their interests and actions affect the system;

(2) The subject of the evaluation is society, which should no longer be the “target society” and be enabled to conduct evaluation and re-planning processes;

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