Evaluation as Pathway to Transformation for a Sustainable Future by Jaideep Visave

Hello, I am Jaideep Visave, part of a team of passionate evaluators who are concerned about our planet. If you are interested in evaluating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to combat climate change problems, then this blogpost is for you. Our team is led by Scott Chaplowe and Adam Hejnowicz.

Through “Transformations Conference 2021: Enabling Positive Tipping Points,” a workshop presentation, we expressed how evaluation, a profession concerned with assessment and consultancy, can support and accelerate change. This was explored from three angles: i) methodological caveats and recommendations for evaluation’s potential to contribute to transformation; ii) the critical role of new data science and related technologies in enhancing evaluation’s transformational potential; and iii) evaluation’s potential role in implementing the SDGs through national voluntary reviews.

Sustainability Revisited: An illustration from evaluation

We believe that the potential role of evaluation in influencing change will depend largely on its ability to change itself. Scott Chaplowe and Adam Hejnowicz, through their article:  Evaluating Outside the Box: Evaluation’s Transformational Potential, have summarized four interrelated “boxes” or bad habits that limit evaluation’s transformational potential: a project fixation, a short-term temporal fixation, a quantitative fixation, and an accountability fixation. They have illustrated how evaluation’s transformational potential is constrained by the “Sustainability Criteria” in the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Evaluation Criteria that limits sustainability to the continuity of an intervention’s planned impacts, rather than sustainability’s original intent of looking primarily at holistic impacts on interconnected natural and human systems.

Date Science and Evaluation for SDGs

We argued that data science represents a new frontier of innovative technologies that can enhance the ability of evaluation to understand development issues, assess the impact of projects and programs, and contribute to better-informed decision-making and improved policymaking. Across all three pillars of sustainable development data science can contribute to a better understanding of poverty traps, health service delivery and disease management, to disaster risk reduction planning and future urban sustainability, to name a few examples. Evaluation has the potential to support data science by helping to address the following: (i) data quality and validity; (ii) social exclusion and sampling bias; (iii) engaging a broad range of stakeholders to define key evaluation questions; (iv) rethinking the value of theories in data collection, curation, and analysis; (v) applying mixed methods approaches; and (vi) recognizing the importance of ground truthing data streams that are unlikely to be explicitly collected for evaluation purposes.

Voluntary National Review (VNR): a missed opportunity in evaluatingSDGs

The SDGs are closely interlinked in complex ways, which countries must take into account when designing and measuring policies to achieve the SDGs. Governments need to strategically integrate the SDGs into national and local budget processes to improve policy coherence. In 2020, 45 countries will submit their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) to the United Nations. However, a review of 43 VNR reports shows that there is more emphasis on monitoring than evaluation in these countries. The report also highlights stark inequalities in global political systems, pointing to the uneven distribution of burdens. The new VNR report shows that timely evaluation can be critical to diagnosing complex development problems and assessing intended and unintended outcomes and impacts.

Final thoughts:

Participating in this workshop is a big learning to me personally. I have found the experience of preparing, conducting and following up on this blog extremely helpful as it has given me the freedom to look at development problems and their solutions “through my own eyes.” At the same time, it has given me a profound realization about sense of “my ownership” towards development problems and has compelled me to take action immediately.

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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