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The merits of evaluation for the world we want

By Indran Naidoo and Nicholas Rosellini

November 5, 2015

“Evaluation” – the word may not be punchy or attract attention.

Yet it is arguably the key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint for prosperity for people across the world, and for the well-being of our planet.

Those goals also dubbed the Global Goals were adopted by all countries at the UN General Assembly last month. The SDGs comprise 17 goals and 169 targets to be met by 2030. They provide a transformational vision for the world and spell out how we work together to create decent jobs, promote dignity, equality, and justice for all, while sustaining our environment.

But how can we ensure that the policies and programmes we undertake help us attain the goals. Here is where evaluation plays a pivotal role. To bring about change on a large scale, it is vital to measure what works and does not work, and to recalibrate to achieve success.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that preceded the SDGs, were strong on monitoring and tracking, but did not build in an evaluation function. The SDGs have an explicit follow-up and review mechanism that is clearly stated in the 2030 agenda. So 192 states have committed to having a national evaluation system in their countries. This puts evaluation front and centre, as the agent of change for the world we seek.

Last week nearly 450 delegates from 100 countries convened in Bangkok to examine the role of evaluation. They reviewed challenges and opportunities, and explored how professionals with expertise in evaluation can help countries improve their capacity to implement the SDGs agenda.

The meeting convened by the UN Development Programme (UNDP)’s Independent Evaluation Office and Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, along with the International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS) put forth a range of ideas, which will take root across the world over the next few years. Those plans were enshrined in what is called the Bangkok Declaration, a roadmap for evaluating the SDGs.

Following consultations between members of governments, international organizations, professional evaluators from the private and non-profit sector, four priorities emerged.

First, evaluations should be country-owned and country-led and be used to influence policy. Evaluations have been used successfully to not only inform policy but to promote mindset changes in organizations and governments, as evaluations help foster improvement in people’s lives.

Second, evaluation processes need to be defined and strengthened to assess critical development outcomes, such as social cohesion, governance, and equitability for marginalized populations. In the Asia-Pacific region, we need to build on the increasing interest from governments that seek innovative techniques to get better feedback from citizens on the effectiveness of their policies and programmes, and to improve transparency and accountability.

Third, we must engage existing and new stakeholders in exchange and collaboration, to increase the awareness and use of evaluations. To harness the power of partnerships with the private sector, governments, civil society, and parliaments it is important to create networks and platforms for information and knowledge sharing, which engage all of them.

Finally, institutions and government departments should integrate the evaluation of the SDGs, in all policies. People involved in evaluation, both producers and users, agree that we need to start thinking of evaluation of the SDGs and related national policies now, so that this important process is not an afterthought.

Several of the SDGs and their targets need to be further deliberated on, in order to provide high-quality data that is reliable, easily accessible, and can be broken down into different data sets. This will help with being more inclusive, aid the measurement of progress, and promote better decision-making to help attain SDG targets.

So-called ‘big data’ and technological innovation will bring new voices, volume and validity to the collection of development data, records management, and quality control.

But to ensure that this happens, we will require the global partnership that the SDGs call for. It will take international support to help build the capacity of governments to mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, and technology and financial resources. The professional evaluation community has made a commitment to help in that process, we now have to take action.

(Indran Naidoo is the Director of UNDP’s Independent Evaluation Office, and Nicholas Rosellini is UNDP’s Deputy Regional Director for Asia & the Pacific and Director of the Bangkok Regional Hub)