Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) Week: Footprint Evaluation Initiative: Incorporating Environmental Sustainability into ALL Evaluations by Alice Macfarlan

This week’s posts highlight reflections from the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI), a global network of organizations and experts working together to support the strengthening of monitoring, evaluation, and the use of evidence in developing countries. GEI uses an integrated systems-based approach and works closely with governments, evaluation professionals, and other stakeholders on efforts that are country-owned and aligned with local needs and perspectives.


I’m Alice Macfarlan, Manager of the BetterEvaluation Knowledge Platform, part of the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI).

The “Rad Resource” that I’m sharing today is the Footprint Evaluation Initiative – an international collaboration supported by GEI, grounded in the premise that all evaluations should include consideration of environmental sustainability, even when this is not a stated goal of the intervention.

What is Footprint Evaluation?

Footprint Evaluation is not a specific methodology or an approach. It’s an ongoing collaborative effort to curate and co-create knowledge about methods and approaches that can be used to understand the environmental sustainability of interventions.  The Footprint Evaluation Initiative provides guidance, tools and processes to support evaluation commissioners, evaluators and users to include sustainability in evaluations.

The Footprint Evaluation core team includes Andy Rowe (ARCeconomics), Patricia Rogers (consultant and founder of BetterEvaluation), Jane Davidson (Real Evaluation), Kaye Stevens (consultant) and myself, and Dugan Fraser (GEI) who was involved in the early phases of the initiative. Beyond the core team, the Footprint Evaluation is supported by a group of Thought Partners and the wider Footprint Evaluation Community which includes members of the Footprint Evaluation Discussion Group, and participants at Footprint Evaluation webinars and events.

Why We Believe Evaluations Should Consider Environmental Sustainability

The world is faced with numerous, compounding environmental crises with the potential for global catastrophe such as climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, ocean warming and acidification, and deforestation. Many of us are living through the devastating effects of these intersecting crises on a local level – where I live in Australia, “catastrophic” bushfires and floods are becoming regular events and important ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the giant kelp forests in the South East, are facing potentially irreversible damage. In the face of these crises, decision-making must be informed by evaluations that take into account the potential – and actual – environmental consequences of planned interventions.

However, most evaluations fail to consider environmental sustainability (see recent stocktakings of sustainability-readiness conducted by the UN Evaluation Group  and the Canadian Evaluation Society). This is even true for countries who have made global environmental commitments. There are significant improvements to be made across the board on the inclusion of environmental sustainability in evaluations. The Footprint Evaluation effort is a step in that direction.

Learning How to Evaluate the Potential or Actual Footprint of an Intervention

Some of the key challenges we’ve been working on through Footprint Evaluation include:

  • How can an evaluation effectively address natural systems/environmental sustainability?
  • What hinders or helps this? What are particular challenges and opportunities?
  • What kind of guidance, tools and processes for evaluations will help to address environmental sustainability? Which systemic approaches amplify helping factors and enable us to overcome hindering factors? 

Rad Resources:


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from GEI 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.

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