Participatory approaches and joint evaluations in practice

The value of participatory approaches and joint evaluations are generally recognised in encouraging ownership and stakeholder-defined solutions. In practice, however, due to management, capacity and time constraints, participation is limited. Meaningful engagement throughout the evaluation process does not appear to be routine. Less than a quarter of members involve stakeholders in evaluation design, and even less in planning and preparing evaluations. By contrast, half of the members encourage stakeholders to participate in reference or steering groups. Due to the regional, thematic or strategic nature of central evaluations, it was suggested that partner government participation is more easily fostered in decentralised evaluations, due to the single country focus.

Joint evaluations are infrequent in multilateral organisations and are more often undertaken by bilateral agencies. The average number of joint evaluations during the last five years for multilateral organisations and bilateral agencies is low. The primary barrier to joint evaluations is reported to be the lack of inter-organisational alignment as well as the time and resources required. Joint evaluations tend to be undertaken for joint programmes, and their use is often determined by the funding modalities.

Improving evaluation capacity at decentralised levels, while linking decentralised evaluation units to central evaluation units is a continuing challenge

The survey results indicate that the links between centralised evaluation units at headquarters and decentralised units at project or country level vary to a large degree, from being rather weak to structured, formal engagement frameworks. A significant stumbling block is the lack of adequate human and financial resources to provide training and support to decentralised evaluation units.

Members are looking for alternative, cost-effective solutions. They indicated significant interest in decentralised evaluation and self-evaluation, underlining their advantages such as, inter alia, cost-effectiveness, accountability, knowledge production and self-learning. Concerns were raised regarding self-evaluations, which are not considered to be robust or reliable evaluation tools. There appears to be a continuing trend towards decentralised evaluations, including setting the necessary resources aside to improve their effectiveness. DFID has successfully established a decentralised evaluation framework that includes the systems to support quality assurance and capacity building. In Australia, the professional evaluation staff from DFAT’s central evaluation unit (ODE) are now leading or participating in a small number of decentralised evaluations each year in order to demonstrate how to undertake a high quality evaluation process from initial planning through to dissemination of findings.

Capacity weaknesses within partner countries are a challenge for some development agencies

In 2010, it was stated that “capacity weaknesses, especially in terms of technical skills and specialised knowledge in evaluation remain a challenge for some development agencies” (OECD, 2010b). The large majority of respondents confirm that development of capacity within the organisation is within the remit of evaluation units. In practice, all development organisations are putting efforts into enhancing skills and improving in-house evaluation expertise through internal training, workshops and by making advisory support available. However, challenges of insufficient capacity remain pronounced at decentralised levels; interviews reveal for example that those in charge of overseeing evaluations are not necessarily experienced in performing or managing evaluations. Whilst 89% of member organisations are responsible for evaluation capacity development within their organisation, less than half are responsible for building the capacity of partner institutions.

In addition to the trends identified in 2010, two additional trends appear to have emerged:

  • • attention to both accountability and learning
  • • focus on performance and knowledge management.
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