5.1 Why evaluate ? Uses of evaluation

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Evaluation is critical for UNDP to progress towards advancing human development. Through the generation of ‘evidence’ and objective information, evaluations enable managers to make informed decisions and plan strategically. UNDP success depends, in part, on the ability of UNDP and its counterparts to carry out credible evaluations and use them to make evidenced-based decisions. The effective conduct and use of evaluation requires adequate human and financial resources, sound understanding of evaluation and most importantly, a culture of results-orientation, learning, inquiry and evidence-based decision-making. Everyone in UNDP and its stakeholders have to share the same vision and be open to change.

When evaluations are used effectively, they support programme improvements, knowledge generation and accountability.

  • Supporting programme improvements—Did it work or not, and why? How could it be done differently for better results?

The interest is on what works, why and in what context. Decision makers, such as managers, use evaluations to make necessary improvements, adjustments to the implementation approach or strategies, and to decide on alternatives. Evaluations addressing these questions need to provide concrete information on how improvements could be made or what alternatives exist to address the necessary improvements. 

  • Building knowledge for generalizability and wider-application—What can we learn from the evaluation? How can we apply this knowledge to other contexts?

The main interest is in the development of knowledge for global use and for generalization to other contexts and situations. When the interest is on knowledge generation, evaluations generally apply more rigorous methodology to ensure a higher level of accuracy in the evaluation and the information being produced to allow for generalizability and wider-application beyond a particular context.

Evaluations should not be seen as an event but as part of an exercise whereby different stakeholders are able to participate in the continuous process of generating and applying evaluative knowledge. UNDP managers, together with government and other stakeholders, decide who participates in what part of this process (analysing findings and lessons, developing a management response to an evaluation, disseminating knowledge) and to what extent they will be involved (informed, consulted, actively involved, equal partners or key decision makers). These are strategic decisions for UNDP managers that have a direct bearing on the learning and ownership of evaluation findings. An evaluation framework that generates knowledge, promotes learning and guides action is an important means of capacity development and sustainability of results.

  • Supporting accountability—Is UNDP doing the right things? Is UNDP doing things right? Did UNDP do what it said it would do?

The interest here is on determining the merit or worth and value of an initiative and its quality. An effective accountability framework requires credible and objective information, and evaluations can deliver such information. Evaluations help ensure that UNDP goals and initiatives are aligned with and support the Millennium Declaration, MDGs, and global, national and corporate priorities. UNDP is accountable for providing evaluative evidence that links UNDP contributions to the achievement of development results in a given country and for delivering services that are based on the principles of human development. By providing such objective and independent assessments, evaluations in UNDP support the organization’s accountability towards its Executive Board, donors, governments, national partners and beneficiaries.

The intended use determines the timing of an evaluation, its methodological framework, and level and nature of stakeholder participation. Therefore, the use has to be determined at the planning stage. Box 26 provides a set of questions to guide UNDP and its stakeholders in assessing the potential use of evaluations.

Box 26. Assessing the use of an evaluation
What information is needed? Examples:

  • Information on the relevance of intended outputs or outcomes and validity of the results framework and results map
  • Information about the status of an outcome and factors affecting it
  • Information about the effectiveness of the UNDP partnership strategy
  • Information about the status of project implementation
  • Information on the cost of an initiative relative to the observed benefits
  • Information about lessons learned

Who will use the information? The intended users of evaluation are those individuals or groups who have a vested interest in the evaluation results and are in a position to make decisions or take action based on the evaluation results. Users of evaluation are varied but generally fall within the following categories in the UNDP context:

  • UNDP management and programme or project officers and managers, others involved in design and implementation
  • National government counterparts, policy makers, strategic planners
  • Development partners
  • Donors and other funders
  • Public and beneficiaries
  • The UNDP Executive Board and other national oversight bodies

How will the information be used?Examples:

  • To design or validate a development strategy
  • To make mid-course corrections
  • To improve project or programme design and implementation
  • To ensure accountability
  • To make funding decisions
  • To increase knowledge and understanding of the benefits and challenges of development programmes and projects intended for the enhancement of human development

These uses are not mutually exclusive and evaluation, in general, has multiple uses. Throughout the evaluation process, the identified use has to be revisited and redefined, as necessary, in consultation with stakeholders. This inclusive process ensures the credibility and ownership of the evaluation process and products, hence resulting in its optimal use.