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On Tuesday, November 24th, WSSCC and 3ie hosted a discussion on how evaluation partnerships can be effective for achieving development impact, and for bridging the gap between evaluators and policymakers. Held as a side event at the Evaluation Conclave 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal, the event showcased the critical nature of multi-sectoral, multi-agency collaborations in the post-2015 era of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The panel featured an all-star group of development professionals, include Marco Segone, Director of the Independent Evaluation Office at UN Women and Chair of the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG); Jyotsna (Jo) Puri Deputy Executive Director & head of evaluation at 3ie; and Archana Patkar, Programme Manager for WSSCC. The event was moderated by award-winning journalist Stella Paul, who independently reports for leading global media outlets including Thomson Reuters and Inter Press Services, and was attended by dozens of evaluation professionals, including Colin Kirk of UNICEF.
All three panellists focused on the critical role that evaluation plays in producing solid evidence on development initiatives for both civil society and policymakers. There was a consensus that a trust deficit exists on both sides of the aisle, and that evaluators must make a far more robust effort to engage the media and politicians, in order to produce accountable results for use in real-world policy and practice. Much of the discussion centred on the need for multi-sectoral partnerships that can assemble a diverse set of voices, and allow evaluators to present their research findings in a broader and more relevant way. With the presence of a journalist in the room, the group also bemoaned the disconnect between the media and the development community. While development professionals often feel that their work is misrepresented or generalized, journalists often feel that the work of evaluators is inaccessible and irrelevant. Therefore, all participants agreed that more trust and understanding is needed to broadcast evaluation findings to the public in a relevant and useful manner.
With the September 2015 adoption of the SDGs at the United Nations General Assembly, there was also a strong emphasis on the shifting landscape away from the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era, and the need for new approaches and initiatives in development. Marco Segone stated that “the main difference between the MDGs and the SDGs was the participatory and inclusive process that involved all countries in formulating the post-2015 development process,” while Archana Patkar highlighted the increasing focus on the poorest and most marginalized groups as the target for evaluation-based development. As the development world moves away from the accountability-driven MDGs and more towards the learning-driven SDGs, Segone and Patkar also emphasized the need for country-led evaluations, as opposed to the traditional model of donor-led accountability. Capacity building at the national level was therefore identified as crucial for increasing rigor. “The SDGs are owned by countries, so this needs to be a universal effort,” added Puri.
In order to make meaningful contribution towards the evaluation and evidence building quest in the WASH sector, as well as to help inform post-2015 strategy and programming, WSSCC and 3ie also highlighted an organizational partnership that supports a Thematic Window for Sanitation and Hygiene. The joint programme aims to generate evidence that can contribute towards filling the knowledge gaps in the WASH sector, and to provide high quality evidence that safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has a very broad range of impacts, including better health, improved education, poverty reduction and women’s empowerment.
The evening reception mirrored many of the themes and calls to action from the Evaluation Conclave itself. Throughout the week, parliamentarians, academics, practitioners, and development workers advocated for an increasing focus on how evaluation makes a tangible difference in people’s lives. The week-long series of events emphasized the need to building partnerships across sectors in order to find evidence, evaluate impact, and then promulgate a culture that props up effective development methods, and simultaneously rules out approaches that aren’t working. All parties agreed that the goal is to provide policymakers with clear and rigorous evidence that showcases what works and what doesn’t. Or, as Colin Kirk of UNICEF stated, “we need evidence based policies, not policy based evidence.”