This blog by Oscar Garcia, Director of UNDP’s Independent Evaluation Office, was published at the close of last year but is a good look at the innovations, opportunities and challenges facing the evaluation discipline as we go into 2022. Garcia’s article does not just provide a survey of the initiatives his and other organisations are undertaking but tries to restate the niche role of evaluation. As he points out, M&E is at a crossroads: more in demand than ever before but with an increasingly overlapping mandate. As this blog has highlighted repeatedly over the past year, the sector-wide investment in integrated “systems thinking” is a concerted attempt to solve this issue. Both advocates and critics of “systems thinking” have been vocal in decrying superficial adoption of its principles: deriding the evaluation of the recent past as “linear” can seem reassuringly ambitious but risks abandoning valuable research. However, Garcia substantiates the move with a proposal for an “ecosystem of evidence”: in essence, this would mean the embedding of evaluators and evaluation practices far more widely across organisational boundaries, and connecting this network with advances in data collection, analysis and dissemination. Whether these high ideals will be met remains to be seen but in UNDP Mr. Garcia has an opportunity to craft proof of concept.
One of the principal challenges facing evaluation has always been assessing the durability of a project when the evaluation itself is typically conducted shortly after the project’s conclusion and support for follow-up is often sorely lacking. In recent years, development specialists have latched on to the concept of ownership as a key indicator of longevity. This blog neatly argues that evaluation capacity itself is a way of cultivating ownership of development outcomes. With greater attachment to the evaluation process, in-country stakeholders will retain investment in the project and its integrity. Part of this involves the tenuous process of shifting funding to local sources but the blog takes the example of Benin where the majority of funds are national and support has been redoubled. While the core of local capacity must consist of technical and financial support, the blog also makes clear that outreach is indispensable: by promoting an “evaluation culture”, buoyed by strong local leadership and participatory events, projects can continue to enjoy transparent and effective M&E indefinitely.
As the majority of world population growth continues to occur in regions of food insecurity, conflict and intensifying environmental challenges, forced migration and displacement have become core concerns of international development. In this interview, Itad’s Elisa Sandri, a specialist in these emerging issues, provides a brief, useful overview of where they stand in 2022. Since cross-border migration by definition cannot be dealt with solely by national governments, there is a clear role for international organisations and this has delivered a broad range of funding for 2022 and beyond. Sandri mentions several of these expansive programs that might be of interest to EES members, in particular the European Union-International Organisation for Migration Joint Initiative in the Horn of Africa. These issues are among the most politically charged faced by evaluators and a robust framework for evidence-based evaluation is therefore essential. We look forward to seeing how the EU-IOM program and others like it iteratively develop that framework and negotiate the perilous job of communicating their findings.
Institutional reform is a staple of modern development theory and unsurprisingly features prominently in M&E. 3ie’s new broad review of existing literature is therefore a welcome addition and promises to consolidate what has often appeared to be a disparate and incoherent approach hobbled by local exigencies. This blog provides a useful overview of the topic and the particular challenges it has faced including measurement of such nebulous concepts as transparency. This is a service to all evaluators since nearly every project will encounter, directly or indirectly, issues related to institutions. Institutional problems are also often at the forefront of donor concerns. A more readily communicable framework for measuring institutional reform may therefore be critical in unlocking further funding going forward.
For those craving a deep dive into evaluation in development economics, with candid comments on how such technical matters are represented in the media, this blog is recommended. Written by Berk Özler, Lead Economist, Development Research Group at the World Bank, it follows the publication of a paper linking cash transfers with brain activity among infants. The blog goes into exacting detail on the paper and what it does (or does not) demonstrate. The usefulness of this to evaluators in general, besides acting as a starting point for a refresher on practical statistics, is that it shows just how easily outcomes can be miscommunicated.