The proof of the pudding is in the eating: five lessons for developing national evaluation capacity


The proof of the pudding is in the eating: five lessons for developing national evaluation capacity

6 min.

Countries’ capacity to evaluate development programmes is key to supporting the real ownership of development outcomes and to strengthening the role that evidence plays in decision-making.

While this principle, which underlies national evaluation capacity development, is crystal clear in many documents dating back to the Paris Declaration of 2005 and, more recently, the 2030 Agenda, in most countries, national evaluation systems are still nascent.

A General Assembly Resolution of 2014 (A/RES/69/237) called on United Nations entities to support country capacity for evaluation. To get an overview of what has happened since then, the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG) has carried out a study on “United Nations contributions to national evaluation capacity development and evolution in national evaluation systems”, which will be published later this year.

We contributed to three of the six country case studies as part of this UNEG review, specifically analysing the development of the national evaluation systems in Benin, Morocco and Costa Rica. We shared some of our findings at the Forum International Francophone de l’Evaluation (FIFE) in December 2021. The panel discussion included our country counterparts from Morocco and Benin.

In this blog, we outline five lessons learned on developing national evaluation systems that we discussed at the FIFE session. These and others will be discussed in more detail in the forthcoming UNEG report.[1]

1. Political will is the key ingredient underpinning the role of national evaluation.

Here, Benin is a shining example. One of the first and longest-standing national evaluation systems in Africa, Benin’s evaluation journey started in 2006, when a new head of state came to power, with evaluation in his political mandate. He set up a ministry to oversee evaluation and promoted a normative framework. In Benin, political will and a drive to put the right building blocks in place were at the heart of the national evaluation system, despite the country’s limited resources. Of course, donors and technical cooperation played a key role in supporting and maintaining interest in it and in improving the system. Interestingly, however, while most of Benin’s evaluation activities started with 100 percent external funding, the lion’s share of the budget (60%) for evaluations carried out by the national evaluation systems is now covered by national resources

2. Evaluation must prove its worth: it is important to start conducting and using evaluations as soon as possible to gain support.

Our country case studies showed that it is not necessary to have a system in place to start conducting evaluations. On the contrary, it is important to demonstrate the value and benefit of evaluation processes by testing and piloting country-led evaluations, so as to garner interest and whip up appetite for further evaluations. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Some countries have taken steps to develop their systems and put policies and guidelines in place, but have carried out no concrete evaluations. Their evaluation systems risk remaining a mere aspiration.

Benin offers an example of how important this is. In 2009, in the early days of the evaluation system, the country conducted an evaluation of its agricultural policy. It was a move that had initially encountered some resistance in the Ministry of Agriculture, but the evaluation process consulted a broad range of stakeholders, including several key organizations from the sector. Following these consultations and discussions, the recommendations were accepted and went on to strongly inform the country’s new agricultural policy. They helped to strengthen some of Benin’s key commodity value chains and improve the economic development of the sector. Ultimately, the success of the agricultural evaluation strengthened the evaluation system and won over more supporters to the evaluation cause.

3. Evaluation must appeal to a broader set of stakeholders to become rooted in a country.

Building an evaluation culture is critical to developing an effective institutional setting and to avoiding a number of inefficient formal structures with no practical impact.

Morocco’s advanced regionalization policy (2015) presented an opportunity to boost the economic, social and cultural development of the country, affecting the governance of regions, provinces, prefectures and municipalities. The policy states that Regional Councils should be accountable to the Regional Court of Accounts and report to it on the outcomes and impacts of plans, programmes and projects. This setup is an opportunity to call on schools and universities to train and prepare new leaders with a robust knowledge of regional and local governance and to include evaluation in their curricula and efforts to foster transparency and accountability in government.

In Costa Rica, the National Evaluation Platform serves as a hub where all stakeholders can discuss and disseminate evaluation exercises, thus contributing to broader understanding and building the capacity of civil society to participate in the process. It also integrates evaluation into regular management practices and ensures it is not simply a response to a donor request.

4. It is important that a strong evaluation champion take the lead.

The case of Costa Rica shows how important it is to have an evaluation champion who takes the lead at national level. The Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy (Mideplan) is the institutional champion in Costa Rica, bringing together different donors and modern methodologies. It has underpinned its legitimacy with the country’s National Evaluation Policy and National Evaluation Platform. It was a smart move to consolidate the national evaluation system, which could otherwise have become a fragmented network of institutions with puffed-up capacity. Indeed, it is now possible to see how the consolidation of Mideplan’s work has led to Costa Rica’s greater involvement in global networks (such as the Global Evaluation Initiative). The country has established linkages at regional level, participating in networks such as the Latin American Network of Evaluation (RELAC), and has promoted inter-university cooperation within the region. In terms of methodologies and innovation, the government recently implemented a participatory evaluation in the Limón municipality in the Caribbean, conducted uniquely by local organizations. Costa Rica was represented in many different panels in the latest gLOCAL Evaluation Week organized by CLEAR LAC in May-June 2021, and it was considered by this organization as being among the top 5 countries in the region in evaluation systems.

5. At country level, it is crucial to promote an evaluation culture and participatory approaches.

Morocco is a case in point. If we wish to attract and maintain the interest of more stakeholders in evaluation, we need to nurture it with open participatory processes and frequent evaluation exercises, including self- and internal evaluation. This will help to strengthen understanding of evaluation and advocate for the use of evaluative evidence. It is not contrary to the notion of independent and external evaluation to ensure rigorous methodology; the two can go hand-in-hand to help advance the cause and practice of evaluation in a country.