A solid milestone in the reattempt for Spanish evaluation

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By Cristina Cribillers and Maria Pomes-Jimenez

The end of April saw a much awaited and solid step ahead for the advancement of public policy evaluation in Spain. The Council of Ministers approved legislation aimed at strengthening, systematising and providing stability and quality to the evaluation of national public policies. It is doubtlessly a milestone for the sector and the profession in the country, which calls for celebration.

The road to now

The immaturity of Spanish evaluation that was documented in the early 2000s (Jacob, Speer & Furubo; 2015) has been transforming over the intervening years. Spain has organically created an evaluation sector, which has been slowly but steadily gaining momentum, nurtured by the public and private sector alike, along with academics and independent or corporate professionals.

The country today has two official university graduate programs (at the Universidad Complutense, and Universidad de Sevilla) focusing on public policy and evaluation. Professional networks have been gradually formed, including the Spanish Evaluation Society (SEE),  International Public Policy Evaluation Network (RIEPP), and the Iberian Association of Evaluation Professionals (APROEVAL). There are also recent initiatives including networks for good practices in evaluation (REDEV) or local networks of evaluation professionals (in Catalonia).

From a public standpoint, selected regions are pioneering the field, including Navarra, and Cataluña, as well as some remarkable initiatives at the municipal level, like those in the city of Valencia. Budgetary control and fiscal responsibility have been diligently and increasingly acted upon by the Independent Authority for Spanish Fiscal Responsibility (AIREF). However, this institution only conducts ex-post evaluations for a limited number of public programs. Thus, from a national perspective and despite an eager academic and professional environment, the institutional backing for cross sectional and comprehensive evaluation was lacking. Critically, it had a history of previous failed attempts. Early in 2007 the National Agency for the Evaluation of Public Policies and Quality of Services (AEVAL) was established with the purpose of contributing to good governance and the improvement of public policies. It started with high aspirations yet slowly faded until it was dissolved a decade later. Explanations cite fundamental flaws in its institutional design, including the fact that its activity could be closely controlled by the very subjects to be evaluated.

Throughout this time, the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD), have repeatedly recommended that Spain  strengthen the institutionalization and culture of public policy evaluation (OCDE, 2005; de la Fuente et al., 2021, p.4). While many advancements in the institutionalization of evaluation came about as a result of international agreements, there is still a long way to go. Improving Governance through Policy Evaluation (2020) by the OECD examines the characteristics of policy evaluation frameworks in various countries. Although Spain meets several of the standards in comparison to the other cases studied, the report highlights the lack of legal requirements for stakeholder engagement, evaluation reporting, and the integration of evaluation findings into policy formulation.

Then, following the COVID-19 pandemic, The Spanish Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan included, as part of Component 11 of the Spanish Plan for EU funds, the modernization of public administrations and promoted reform #1, specifically citing “…the evaluation of public policies will be reinforced in order to improve their efficiency”. April’s publication of the Draft Law starts the motion towards a first achievement, which is the publication of the full text by the last quarter of 2022. This is the first of three tangible milestones (among others that are intangible).

What’s in the text?

The published text, available here, has four objectives: (i) strengthening the sector; (ii) promoting an evaluation culture; (iii) involving the public sector in its delivery of public service and public value; and (iv) measuring policy impact in a transversal, integral and participative manner, beyond fiscal accountability. To fulfil these purposes, the draft bill defines a series of principles that require evaluation to be comprehensive, cross-cutting, independent and participatory. The text sets the groundwork for the institutionalisation of national public policy evaluation through a stable evaluation planning mechanism for the entire administration, in quadrennial plans for strategic evaluations that are deemed socially or economically most relevant, and biannual plans for each government departments.

The national institutional framework for evaluation is to draw from a system of common national indicators. These are set to contain items that speak to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the Agenda 2030 adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, including matters of inclusion, demography, sustainability and climate change, and redistributive principles. These aim to foster evaluations that are comprehensive and transversal. It is coupled with a push towards ex-ante evaluations that become a prerequisite for policy approval. The text also speaks to the independence of these evaluations, which will be carried by an external evaluation team.

It also heralded the creation of a new public body, the Agency for the Evaluation of State Public Policies, which will be in place by the third quarter of 2023 (this being the second tangible milestone). Under its remit will be the design of two key tools for these public evaluations: a common web portal for all departments that will provide transparent monitoring information of national public policies, and an evaluation-specific digital portal that will convene subject information, experts and data. This draft text sets the end of 2024 for the publication of the national strategy for the evaluation of public policies. The text also imagines an interministerial collegiate body for public cooperation and participation (Comisión Superior de Evaluación) and a General Evaluation Council, which would allow participation of civil society and other interested parties while nurturing the evaluative culture.

This is a remarkably promising draft text. It has been open for consultations and is set to be passed into law before the end of the year. For evaluation professionals in the country, these are exciting yet cautious times, but, all in all, we are expectant and hopeful about the full publication and the road it sets us on.

Together with the lessons that the AEVAL history provides, there are other key considerations for a robust evaluation sector that delivers evaluations that result in better policies. Considering the specificities of the national context, this text does provide for a national framework and a plan for national policies, while a significant role is also to be played by regional administrations. The snapshot today reveals a very uneven panorama in each of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain. Coordination among them is going to be key for the ultimate result of this framework. Similarly, cooperation between different levels of administration will be critical sharing best practices. But also, as is often the case in our sector, a major factor in public policy evaluations will be their usability. In a pre-emptive manner, the text cites that evaluation results are to be incorporated into public decision-making processes, and that public bodies will be accountable for doing so. If this is successfully achieved it will be a milestone not just for the country, but for the sector and the profession at large.

This is doubtlessly a milestone for the Spanish evaluation profession. It defines the way forward for the functioning of public evaluation, and sets us on a path towards inclusive, transversal, sustainable, and participatory evaluations. Certainly, it is a promising prelude to a fascinating year for the sector, the country, its policies and ultimately its civic life.

References

Jacob, S., Speer, S., & Furubo, J. E. (2015). The institutionalization of evaluation matters: Updating the International Atlas of Evaluation 10 years later. Evaluation21(1), 6-31. Retrieved from:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1356389014564248?casa_token=soGEQbDwpHoAAAAA:UVMWwnhnUYf_slbP83QENlU3Z9CqvpDDob76gzSSGEFTr3MF0hxS54cln3hVejXV-pbfVR1RJEtuGg

OCDE (2005). Economic Survey. Spain 2005. https://doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-esp-2005-en

de la Fuente, A. (coordinador), G. de Rus, M. Fernández, M. A. García, M. Jansen, S. Jiménez, A. Novales, J. Onrubia, J. Pérez Renovales, E. Sastre y J. Sicilia (2021). “La evaluación de políticas públicas en España: antecedentes, situación actual y propuestas para una reforma.” Informes y papeles del Grupo de Trabajo Mixto Covid-19. FEDEA Policy Paper no. 2021-09. Madrid. Retrieved from: https://documentos.fedea.net/pubs/fpp/2021/10/FPP2021-09.pdf?utm_source=wordpress&utm_medium=portada&utm_campaign=estudio

Ministerio de Hacienda y Función Pública (2022). El Gobierno aprueba el anteproyecto de Ley de Evaluación de Políticas Públicas para fortalecer el proceso de análisis y la eficacia de las medidas adoptadas (Nota de prensa). Retrieved from: https://www.hacienda.gob.es/Documentacion/Publico/GabineteMinistro/Notas%20Prensa/2022/CONSEJO-DE-MINISTROS/19-04-22-NP-CM-ANTEPROYECTO-LEY-EVALUACION-POLITICAS-PUBLICAS.pdf

Gobierno de España (2022). Plan de Recuperación, Transformación y Resiliencia. Componente 11: Modernización de las Administraciones Públicas. Retrieved from: https://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/temas/fondos-recuperacion/Documents/16062021-Componente11.pdf

Gobierno de España (2022). El Gobierno aprueba el anteproyecto de Ley de Evaluación de Políticas Públicas para fortalecer el proceso de análisis y la eficacia de las medidas adoptadas. Retrieved from: https://planderecuperacion.gob.es/noticias/el-gobierno-aprueba-el-anteproyecto-de-ley-de-evaluacion-de-politicas-publicas-para-fortalecer