Evaluating for Development

I do not “evaluate development”. I evaluate for development. This demands, among others, that I am clear and explicit, as well as deeply circumspect about the values, models, theories of change and worldviews about development that influence my work, and against which I make my assessments.

I prefer to evaluate development initiatives that acknowledge the dire need for truly empowered individuals and strong institutions as well as the critical role of state of the art expertise, research and innovation.

I have a keen interest in global systems and value chains, the role of the private sector and their partnerships, and the influence on development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I am captivated by the grand aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, in spite of their multiple flaws, force us to think from local to global level about systems, trajectories, key differences between countries and regions, the role of politics and power asymmetries, and transformative change, among many others.

As a natural scientist now working in a profession driven by the social sciences, I watch with alarm as we continue to think in linear ways, and fragment and silo development and evaluation. We unthinkingly break things into their smallest parts, and breathlessly search for “best practices” and “silver bullet” solutions.

Instead, I relish understanding the interconnectedness of things, and prefer to evaluate cross-boundary interventions using a systems lens.

I try to be aware of, and embed nuance in all my evaluations. We tend to be too simplistic, too un-nuanced in our data collection and interpretation. I respect the critical role of values, worldviews, culture and context in development, as well as the harmful and potentially neutralising effects of negative consequences, outcomes or impacts of development initiatives.

I want to use evaluation to help enable durable development and resilient nations. I do not want to judge “impact” without also assessing whether it is likely to be sustained or transformed into other positive influences. And I want to make serious efforts to determine whether that has indeed happened, and what can be learnt as a result.

I aim to combine monitoring, research and evaluation in such a way that it empowers people with evaluative thinking skills, confidence, knowledge and understanding, so that they can be agile and adjust policies, strategies and operations in time to be effective.

Finally, evaluation also has to be done and used in a way that accelerates our understanding of how to do things – from the simplest of development interventions to solving the most intractable problems. I therefore love to innovate in practice and through research on evaluation, and to synthesise evidence and knowledge that can inform development success.

There is much to do!