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.
-Liz DiLuzio, Lead Curator, AEA365
I am Gonzalo Hernández Licona, Evaluation Advisor for the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI). For many years I have worked to build and strengthen monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems at the national level, first in Mexico and later in various other countries. I work with the GEI to support its mission of helping countries strengthen their M&E systems so that governments can gather and use evidence to improve the lives of their citizens.
What I have learned over the years is that if we want evaluations to be used by governments to inform and improve their decision-making, we need to identify and engage with the stakeholders that have the capacity and power to use evaluation evidence to influence decision-making.
Although many national M&E systems are linked to national planning institutions/ministries, there is one very relevant stakeholder that is often overlooked with regard to the national evaluation process: the ministry of finance. To strengthen national M&E systems and to make them more effective, it is crucial that finance ministries are involved in the evaluation process. The budget process is a central decision-making tool for the government, and it is through this process that the government determines its priorities and allocates resources. Overall, involving ministries of finance in the evaluation cycle can help to ensure that evaluations are relevant, credible, and used for decision-making.
Based on my experience, there are several things to consider when engaging with finance ministries with regard to evaluation:
Engage the Finance Ministry in M&E talks: When planning monitoring and evaluation (M&E) meetings, it is important to try to involve the Finance Ministry from the beginning. Even if they are not considered an “official” stakeholder, they can provide valuable insights and help ensure that evaluations are supporting national strategic objectives. Use existing political channels to invite the finance ministry staff to the M&E discussion and be prepared to explain why their participation is important.
Link Evaluations with Budget Negotiations: Objective evaluations can help the finance ministry negotiate budgets more effectively. By providing evidence-based arguments for why certain programs should be prioritized, evaluations can help overcome political pressures to fund certain programs that may be under-performing, but that have the support of those in senior political positions. Share with the finance ministry concrete examples of how evaluations have been used in different budget processes.
Link Evaluations with Incentives for Individual Decision-makers: One of the most challenging aspects of promoting evaluation and evidence-based decision-making is linking them with specific incentives for individuals. Simply stating that evaluations will “improve people’s lives” is too general and may not align with the objectives of a minister or sub-minister. Instead, it is important to consider how evaluations can benefit policy makers themselves. For example, between 2014-2018, Mexican politicians recognized the importance of reducing poverty to advance their own political careers. By approaching the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) to identify effective poverty reduction programs, they were able to make more informed budget decisions. The Finance Minister of Puebla, in Mexico, even stated that evaluations had made his job easier by providing evidence-based arguments for budget decisions.
Don’t Immediately Abandon a Poorly Evaluated Program: Evaluations can be a useful tool for determining which programs should be prioritized for achieving strategic objectives. However, it is important to use evaluation findings to improve programs rather than immediately reducing their budgets. Instead, analyze which programs are best suited for achieving the desired results and use evidence-based arguments to convince the Finance Ministry to support them. For example, if there is only one program in the vaccination strategy, for example, you cannot reduce its budget or eliminate it – even if it receives a poor evaluation.
Encourage Collaboration: Collaboration between M&E and finance departments/ministries is essential for effective budgeting. In Colombia, M&E is primarily carried out by the National Department of Planning (DNP), while the Colombian Finance Ministry has been less involved. However, the Colombian government’s recent efforts to increase the use of evaluation results by Colombian ministries is committing DNP and the Finance Ministry to work together. One of the first obstacles to overcome in such a collaboration is establishing a common language that can be understood by M&E stakeholders and the finance staff alike. The international community can play a role in supporting this process, as GEI did in Colombia by compiling a summary of all the public policy evaluations conducted by DNP over the last four years, with clearly worded, non-technical, explanations of findings and recommendations on next steps. (Read more about GEI’s work in Colombia here.)
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