EPE TIG Week: Thinking Globally: How to evaluate the effectiveness of aid to the environment on a global level by Sara El Choufi

Greetings, AEA365! Liz DiLuzio here, lead curator of the blog. Those of you long time, loyal readers may recognize today’s post by Sara El Choufi. It was originally posted to the site back in 2014. Forgive the pun, but the EPE TIG’s curation team thought that its evergreen content made it worth the repost. We hope you enjoy it (again)!


My name is Sara El Choufi and I am an environmental analyst at the World Bank. I have spent 10 years working in the field of environmental evaluation. I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on evaluating the effectiveness of aid to the environment.

As evaluators, we tend to focus our work on programs and projects. We thoroughly evaluate a project, or a set of projects and draw out conclusion, best practices, lessons learned, etc. But, I wonder if we ever take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture. I mean really take a step back and try to figure out what the world has achieved in terms of environmental protection in over four decades.

Of course, such a study is not an easy task to undertake; for starters, where do we get the data? How reliable is it? Assuming we do have remarkably detailed and reliable accounts, how can we generalize and draw conclusions? To what degree do we rely on quantitative studies, and how much thematic and qualitative work needs to be done?

Thinking about this lead me to Greening Aid? – a book solely focused on the foreign assistance and its impact on the environment. I also discovered what could be considered the most comprehensive database for foreign aid – AidData. Collecting data from the OECD, donors, and recipients, AidData “aimed to create a database of development finance activities with as much descriptive detail as possible at the project level for use in the research community.”

Ok, so we have data, now what? How does one begin to evaluate the impact of aid to the environment on the protection and conservation of the global commons, or forests for example? What about measuring to what degree aid has contributed to the reduction of CO2 emissions? What about marine ecosystems? The list goes on…

Another layer is what indicators do we use? Are the World Development Indicators enough? Do we rely on locally assembled data (be it from government, research institutions, or civil society)? Do we need to have boots on the ground and do our own data collection? So on and so forth…

This seems like an impossible undertaking, or at least an impractical one. Should it be done? How can we as evaluators contribute to such a study?

Recent years have seen leaps in such evaluative work. From using highly detailed (and accurate) satellite data to running complex regression and causal factor trees analysis, to conducting value for money analysis. What are other examples that you may have seen?

This is meant as a thought piece, and I hope it compels you to respond and weigh in ?

Rad Resources:

AidData – “a research and innovation lab making information on development finance more accessible and actionable.”

Greening aid?: Understanding the environmental impact of development assistance by R.L. Hicks (2010).


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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