Governments follow IIED's model for evaluating progress on sustainable development

National governments successfully conducted evaluations of their progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, drawing on an approach developed by IIED.

August 2022
4 minute read
A row of wind turbines on a misty hillside.

Costa Rica produced its SDG evaluation in 2020 and is leading the world in climate and biodiversity policies (Photo: Aaron Minnick, World Resources Institute, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 2015, the United Nations committed member states to a global effort to achieve 17 goals for a better future for the planet and humanity within 15 years. The process, known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, puts follow-up, evaluation and review action at the heart of global and national efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

IIED is working with partners around the world to support countries to evaluate their progress on the SDGs and to use lessons from those evaluations to inform related national policy processes. We have helped to develop an international community of practice on evaluations, and Finland, Nigeria and Costa Rica have conducted national evaluations of their SDG progress inspired by IIED’s work.

The challenge

The SDGs include 169 targets and 231 unique indicators to help measure how effectively countries are working towards the SDGs. However, a significant gap remains between governments' commitment to Agenda 2030 and its implementation.

Designing a national SDG evaluation is no easy task, given the enormous scope and complexity of the issues at stake. Local and national evaluators need support if they are to use SDG evaluation as an opportunity to improve national policies and programmes.

IIED's approach

IIED has been making a 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.

Evaluation can help to establish the value and sustainability of national strategies and programmes that contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. Evidence generated through SDG evaluation can also inform better policies and provide decision makers with valuable lessons about what is working and why.

We argue that if evaluation is to assist in aligning national policy with Agenda 2030, it must be designed for the country concerned and built around existing political and assessment systems.

Effective evaluation goes beyond data measurement: it provides a way to explain trends and investigate whether progress is equitable, relevant and sustainable. Evaluation can help to establish the value and sustainability of strategies, policies and programmes that will help a country achieve the SDGs.

What we did

IIED and partners EVALSDGs, UNICEF, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and DEval have established a community of practice that includes monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) professionals and government officials working in national monitoring and evaluation departments and SDG follow-up and review processes.

Since 2016 we have co-developed a series of knowledge products with EVALSDGs, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, UNICEF, DEval, the IEG World Bank, the IEO UNDP, and The Global Parliamentarians Forum for Evaluation, EvalPartners, UN Women, EVALGENDER+ and the Nereus Programme.

Our colleagues include evaluators from Finland, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Benin, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

In 2019, we convened a workshop on evaluations for the SDGs. Thirty-three government representatives and evaluation specialists from 22 countries attended the Helsinki event jointly organised by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, EVALSDGs, IIED and UNICEF. The workshop participants all subsequently played key roles in the three country’s national evaluations.

Following the workshop, we jointly developed a guidebook on evaluation to connect national priorities with the SDGs. The 48-page guide includes material based on the experience of Finland, the only country to have completed a national SDG evaluation at that time, and Nigeria and Costa Rica, whose assessment plans were well advanced.

Launched in early 2020, the guide is designed for evaluation commissioners, managers and professional evaluators to tailor plans and approaches to SDG evaluation. The publication looks at how to design a successful evaluation within existing national contexts. It:

  • Lays out the main steps involved in scoping, designing and conducting an SDG evaluation
  • Discusses how SDG evaluation processes and results can be used to support national progress
  • Identifies key SDG evaluation characteristics and approaches, and
  • Looks at how SDG evaluation can be integrated into national monitoring and evaluation systems.

In May 2020, UNICEF’s Evaluation Office, the Development Evaluation Unit of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, IIED and EVALSDGs hosted a webinar to launch the guidebook. Watch the recording on YouTube or below:

The guidebook was the second most downloaded IIED publication during IIED's 2019 strategy period, with 2,580 downloads, and today the guide is being used by national evaluation commissioners and professionals.

In January 2021, Costa Rica’s Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy (MIDEPLAN) completed an evaluation of non-repayable international development interventions in the fields of biodiversity and climate change in Costa Rica, 2010-18. This is the first time a partner country has evaluated an entire sector of development cooperation – that is, the activities of all donors in multiple SDGs.

The German Institute for Development Evaluation (DEval) is the organisation supporting MIDEPLAN's evaluation, and they have reported that the guidebook has informed the evaluation methodology.

MIDEPLAN presented its evaluation results to key figures, including ministers and ministry officials, technical team members, partners, NGOs and the international evaluation community.

In addition, IIED partners in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have run training courses for government officials based on the guidebook.

What difference has this work made?

Undertaking effective evaluation will be a central part of achieving the SDGs. Collecting data is not enough: national and local governments need to be able to think critically about what data reveals and use the evidence to inform strategies and policies.

And yet, in many countries evaluation skills remain weak; supporting countries to build their national and regional evaluation capacity remains a key task.

This work has supported countries to take action to enhance their capacities – an essential step towards their national governments developing monitoring and evaluation systems that can deliver on Agenda 2030.

Further insights

IIED and longstanding partners are continuing their work on evaluations. We produced a three-part series of podcasts titled “Sustainable Development Goals: evaluating progress for a brighter future”, drawing on the knowledge and learning from our partnership.

It features specialists in evaluation theory and practice discussing the details and challenges of assessing progress on the SDGs.