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How can evaluations add value in uncertain times? This question was at the forefront of the 2023 OSCE Evaluation Network Annual Meeting held in Belgrade and online from the 4 to 6 October 2023. The meeting marked the 10th Anniversary of the Evaluation Network and was hosted by the OSCE Mission to Serbia.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest regional security organization, with 57 participating States and field operations throughout the OSCE area. The Organization takes a comprehensive approach to security that encompasses politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects.

The OSCE’s Evaluation Network is coordinated by the Evaluation Section of the OSCE’s Office of Internal Oversight, which is responsible for conducting independent evaluations of relevant thematic areas and strategic issues and provides guidance across the OSCE to enhance the Organization’s evaluation system.

The Network comprises OSCE project and programme managers, evaluation focal points and other like-minded officials from across the Organization. These focal points and managers play a key role in commissioning decentralized evaluations of relevant projects and programmes as required by the OSCE’s Evaluation Policy.

The 2023 Evaluation Network Annual Meeting in Belgrade involved around 40 OSCE Evaluation Network members from South Eastern and Western Europe, as well as Central Asia, as well as guest speakers working in the field of evaluation. They gathered to share experiences and discuss challenges and possible solutions for conducting OSCE evaluations in uncertain times. Discussion topics included upholding evaluation standards, integrating gender, as well as capacity building sessions on the use of theories of change and managing decentralized evaluations.

The focus of this year’s meeting on the added value of evaluations in uncertain times was particularly timely. With the ongoing war in Ukraine and the rise in tensions in the OSCE region, the OSCE faces multiple challenges.

Recent OSCE Evaluation Reports show the relevance and results of the OSCE’s work, as well key challenges related to its functioning within political boundaries set by participating States, the decentralized nature of the OSCE, and the Organizations relatively small and declining budget. The evaluations’ recommendations call for balancing demand driven work with a more strategic approach, leveraging local partnerships to increase sustainability, and increasing internal and external collaboration to enhance the achievement of security objectives.

Along with network members sharing their experiences with conducting evaluations in uncertain times, guest speakers also presented inspiring examples of new approaches in evaluation to increase evaluations added value. The Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB), for example, explained how recent evaluations have assessed the combined contribution of diplomatic efforts, development cooperation and military interventions to stability in fragile contexts, providing ideas for evaluating the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security.

Experts from Niras, a consultancy firm working on sustainable development, provided insights into how futures thinking — imagining different scenarios for the future — should be integrated into evaluations to increase the relevance of evaluation findings, conclusions and recommendations. With practical examples of how to make evaluations future sensitive, this provided plenty of food for thought for the participants, especially in light of the OSCE’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2025.

While there is no single answer to the Annual Meeting’s central question, the Meeting provided welcome inspiration and ideas on how OSCE evaluations can add value in uncertain times. One of the meeting’s takeaways was that, in a context where security cooperation is needed more than ever, evaluations have a key role to play in informing decision-making that will shape the future, contributing to accountability for results, and stimulating organizational learning. We will keep the discussion going as we explore these topics further with the wider evaluation community at the upcoming EES 2023 Autumn online event, ‘Alternative Futures: What role for evaluation in a just transition?’