Empowering Countries through Evaluation: Evaluation as a country level tool for the new development agenda

Remarks by John Hendra, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme, UN Women, at the Fourth Development Cooperation Forum High-Level Side Event organized by the UN Evaluation Group, 11 July, 2014.

Date: Friday, July 11, 2014

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Thank you Deborah, and many thanks to you and the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG) team for organizing this important side-event.  Honorable Kabir Hashim, Mr. Balisacan, Amina Mohammed, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

Over the past two years there has been a lot of reflection on, and discussion about, the contribution made by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Today there’s broad acknowledgement, and consensus, that the MDGs have made a significant contribution to poverty reduction and development globally.  As the 2014 Global MDG Report just released shows, the world has seen unprecedented poverty reduction and a significant rise in living standards for billions of people.  In short, there’s a growing consensus that the MDGs have made a real difference in millions of people’s lives, and have certainly helped shape the development landscape, by galvanizing the development community globally and garnering broad political, and considerable financial, support.

Indeed, I’ve seen with my own eyes how important the MDGs can be when it comes to national policy prioritization, including in Tanzania and Vietnam where I’ve been privileged to serve as UN Resident Coordinator.

Yet, as is the case with all development results, there is still the challenge of attribution.  In other words, the question remains: have these changes been brought about as a result of the MDGs having been adopted?  Do we have the evaluative evidence on results?

The evidence is, as some commentators such as Oxfam have noted, somewhat mixed.  As an assessment by the Centre for Global Development has highlighted, if we look at significant differences in outcomes and impacts before and after the year 2000, we see that the clearest effects have been first, on aid levels, and second, on the policy discourse around development. The impact on policy change, and on development outcomes overall, is less conclusive.  In some areas, the link between the MDGs, increased international aid, and enhanced development impact is clear and convincing: vaccination and primary education are prime examples.  But in others it is less so. 

Let me be clear.  This is not an argument for not having global development goals - far from it!  The critical and singular importance of the attention, resources, and policy commitment garnered by a single, now universal, global, development agenda for the next 15 years cannot be underestimated.  It’s instead an argument for building evaluation into the design of the new development agenda from the outset.  Because one reason we can’t better assess the impact of the MDGs is that we didn’t robustly evaluate them. 

And that’s why, as the world discusses, and Member States negotiate, the formulation of new development goals for a post-2015 era, it’s so important that now we plan for, and later properly undertake, evaluation of their impact.  We need to better understand how development is improving the lives of people around the world, what works, what doesn’t work and how to change it.  Evidence of impact is critical to inform and guide evidence-based policy-making.  And evaluation is therefore a critical tool for the post-2015 agenda.

As we’ve heard, it’s particularly critical at the country level, to assess national progress.  Because country contexts differ so greatly, and the SDGs and new targets will need to be customized to take into account specific national circumstances, so too does evaluation need to be conducted at the national level, in support of national development priorities and with an understanding of national conditions.  Such robust national evaluation can help feed into a global assessment of progress, and impact.  But even more importantly, it can help inform national decision-making, and ensure countries do more of what’s working, and take it to scale for greater impact, or stop doing what isn’t working.

Looking forward, I see five key priorities if we are to truly embed evaluation in the planning and implementation of the new post-2015 development agenda.

First, and this is an ongoing discussion as you know, we need to have in place robust data to measure and assess progress.  As Amina highlighted, we do need a data revolution - and we need to disaggregate indicators by sex, income quintile, age, disability and so on, so that we can really measure progress towards eliminating inequalities.  Currently, there is one specific but very important target in Goal 17 but it will be fundamental to disaggregate all indicators across the framework to ensure the new agenda is transformative and rights based.

What’s more, we need a gender data revolution, to ensure that the 52 standard indicators on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and the now nine standard indicators on measuring violence against women, adopted by the UN Statistical Commission, are rolled out globally so that we can properly benchmark and bring down these totally unacceptably high levels of violence.  And this also means that as the UN we need to work much more coherently to provide support to national statistical institutions.

Second, and just as critical, as we’ve heard, is to strengthen national evaluation capacity.  Because indicators for monitoring, while necessary, are not sufficient: countries also need to understand what’s working, what’s needed and also what not to do.  And national ownership of evaluation processes and findings is critical to ensuring uptake and ultimately policy change.  As the UN system, we have a responsibility to work “as one” to support countries in this regard.  This is just as important at the global level, where the UN Evaluation Group already leads and coordinates the UN system in taking a coherent, coordinated approach to evaluation practice.

Third, is to ensure that evaluation is firmly grounded in human rights and equality, including gender equality. UN Women and the International Organization for Cooperation in Evaluation has launched a global partnership, EvalPartners, which Deborah referred to, a network of 55 organizations, to strengthen national capacities for equity-focused and gender sensitive evaluation systems.  Building and extending such partnerships in future will be key.

Fourth, accountability and transparency are critical for a universal rights-based, transformative, agenda.  The results of the new commitments made by countries, and by development partners, must be robustly and transparently assessed and evaluated.  And this means that evaluations must be participatory, and inclusive, at all levels.

More than 3 million people have now participated in UNDG consultations on the post-2015 agenda. And all over the world, people are saying that they want a say not only in the formulation of the new agenda, but also in the way it is monitored and assessed. Including citizens in evaluation, using all the participatory methodologies we have at our disposal, will be key. 

And finally, it’s absolutely critical that we really use evaluation and the evidence it generates, for policy change.  And this is a responsibility largely of governments, but also of civil society, the private sector, and the UN. It’s also critical that the UN system itself takes a much more systematic and robust approach to evaluation, including at the country level.  We need to be evaluating our work “as one” not only at the level of the UN Development Assistance Framework  (UNDAF) but also thematically, working together as UN agencies to jointly evaluate the impact of our work whether on social protection, on climate change, or on gender equality and human rights.  And we need to learn from and better share the evidence such evaluation generates. 

Because when we reflect back on the next generation of development goals in 16 years’ time, we should be in quite a different situation from where we are with the MDGs.  We should be able to clearly understand the impact of these new goals, and the extent to which they have led to what I believe will be transformative development results. Evaluation which is nationally-owned, participatory, rights based and gender-responsive will in my opinion, be critical to get us there.

Thank you.