Effective evaluation for the Sustainable Development Goals

21 October 2016

Evaluation processes will play a key role in national and global review systems for the Sustainable Development Goals. IIED and EVALSDGs are publishing a series of briefings about evaluation designed to help promote effective conduct and use of evaluation in SDGs implementation, follow-up and review.

September 2015: on the eve of the United Nations summit to agree the 2030 Agenda, a film introducing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is projected onto the UN headquarters building (Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in 2015 puts follow-up and review processes at the heart of global and natioanal efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It says the follow-up and review processes will be informed by country-led evaluations and data which is high-quality, accessible, timely and reliable.

The EvalSDGs logoIIED and the EVALSDGs network have prepared a series of briefing papers looking at effective evaluation for the SDGs. The briefings make the case for greater use of evaluation and evaluative thinking in follow-up and review processes for the SDGs, especially at the national and sub-national levels.

They argue that effective evaluation goes beyond measurement, and provides a way to explain data trends and investigate whether progress is equitable, relevant and sustainable.

EVALSDGs (Evaluation – adding Value And Learning to the SDGs) is a network of policymakers, institutions and practitioners who advocate for evaluation of the SDGs and support integration of evaluation initiatives into national, regional and global SDG feedback and review systems.

EVALSDGs aims to form a strong evaluation platform to inform, support, measure and assess development efforts around the SDGs (PDF). IIED experts are engaged in wide range of work across the 2030 Agenda.

Monitoring, evaluation and the SDGs

To date, there has been considerable focus on how to measure progress using indicators and statistics. The briefing papers focus on the role of evaluation. They explain that evaluation differs from monitoring and indicators, but is complementary and adds substantial value for learning and adaptive management. 

The briefings also unpack crucial lessons learnt during the implementation of the Millenium Development Goals, and how these should inform national evaluation agendas and systems for the SDGs.

One of the authors, IIED's Stefano D'Errico, says effective evaluation will play a vital role in implementing the SDGs: "There are many misconceptions about evaluation. People say 'we will do a survey', but evaluation involves much more than that. 

"Evaluation is about establishing value, worth and merit. It means using critical thinking, asking questions, analysing arguments and assessing claims. This can help to make difficult decisions in complex environments."

Building evaluation capacity is a key task for evaluation professionals as well as for evaluation commissioners, and users. They need to select evaluation questions, understand what is the most appropriate methodology and ultimately get the greatest benefit possible from evaluation findings.

The 2030 Agenda (PDF) commits to engaging in systematic follow-up and review of the implementation of the agenda over the next 15 years. It says that the follow-up processes will operate at national, regional and global levels and will be country-led.

Building the capacity of national policymakers and parliamentarians to use evaluative thinking will be an important task. The agenda documents note that follow-up and review processes "will require enhanced capacity-building support for developing countries, including the strengthening of national data systems and evaluation programmes, particularly in African countries, least developed countries, small island developing states, landlocked developing countries and middle-income countries." (Paragraph 74H)

The new briefing papers are designed to be accessible and useful to a wide audience: they use clear and simple language, and avoid technical jargon. Each briefing will be translated initially into French, Portuguese and Spanish and other languages when possible.

The briefings were developed in partnership between IIED and EVALSDGs, with support from the Government of Finland. The research was funded by UK aid from the UK Government.

The papers

cover of Evaluation: a crucial ingredient for SDG successEvaluation: a crucial ingredient for SDG success

This briefing paper argues that measurement is not enough: monitoring must be accompanied by evaluation that addresses the complexity of the SDGs and how they are achieved. It says that to maximise their usefulness to policymakers and citizens, the follow-up and review processes for the 2030 Agenda must incorporate rigorous, country-led evaluations that examine policy and programme implementation and effectiveness, and build well-reasoned and supported cases for claims of progress.

The paper looks at the importance of considering whether progress is equitable, relevant and sustainable. The paper provides an overview of six key considerations for effective evaluation. These are:

  • Measurement is not enough
  • Evaluation addresses the complexity of the SDGs and their achievement
  • Evaluative thinking is indispensable for informed choices
  • National policy evaluation is essential
  • Evaluation builds solid evidence for claims, and
  • Building capacity for evaluation is crucial. 

This publication is also available in French/en français and in Portuguese/Português.

cover of Counting critically: SDG ‘follow-up and review’ needs interlinked indicators, monitoring and evaluationCounting critically: SDG 'follow-up and review' needs interlinked indicators, monitoring and evaluation

The second briefing in the series introduces key considerations for the use of indicators, monitoring and evaluation of SDG implementation, review and follow-up at the national level. 

The paper argues that maintaining stakeholder involvement in follow-up and review processes will help national governments select the most relevant indicators, inform their decisions and will foster widespread ownership of the development agenda. 

The paper also suggests using an adaptive management approach – exploring emerging and alternative ways to meet objectives and targets, and using knowledge from monitoring and evaluation to develop new understanding and new ways of acting. 

This publication is also available in French/en français and in Portuguese/Português.

cover of Five considerations for national evaluation agendas informed by the SDGsFive considerations for national evaluation agendas informed by the SDGs

This paper highlights the importance of grounding national evaluation systems in a philosophy and practice that matches the interconnected nature of the SDGs. The MDGs highlighted the benefits of adopting a complex systems perspective: this means understanding that goals and solutions are diverse, hoslistic, transnational and can unfold in non-linear ways.

This briefing gives an overview of the complex systems perspective. It also sets out five considerations that can help resource-constrained countries to set national evaluation agendas and maximise the value of evaluation. The five points are: thinking beyond single policies, programmes and projects; examining macro forces influencing success or failure; having a nuanced understanding of 'success'; recognising the importance of culture; and adopting evaluative thinking and adaptive management. 

Realising the SDGs by reflecting on the way(s) we reason, plan and act: the importance of evaluative thinkingRealising the SDGs by reflecting on the way(s) we reason, plan and act: the importance of evaluative thinking

The fourth briefing paper focuses on the importance of evaluative thinking for effective follow-up and review frameworks and mechanisms.

This briefing describes evaluative thinking, outlines what promotes and inhibits it, and explains how it is intimately connected to adaptive management. 

The paper argues that evaluative thinking is an essential component of adaptive management and is indispensable for all decision makers, organisations and communities working towards the SDGs. 

  • The final paper, yet to be published, will look at national evaluation system informed by the SDGs.

Contact

Stefano D'Errico (stefano.derrico@iied.org), monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning manager, IIED's Strategy and Learning Group