Development Evaluation as A “Means to What End”?

Evaluation has often times been referred to as a “necessary evil” and has evoked great fear and anxiety in the minds of project staff who believe that they are being placed under the microscope and all their “short-comings” will be unearthed and made public. Furthermore, because of the prevalence of very prescriptive and linear evaluation approaches in developing countries, the “unexpected” and “unplanned” are not embraced as possible social innovations.

Consequently, a very defensive and disengaged stance is taken by project teams who resent the perceived “invasion” by evaluators (oftentimes referred to as “foreigners”) who arrive armed with prescribed templates and models allowing for little adaptation. Similarly, project beneficiaries and other key stakeholders feel that information is “extracted” from them without any future input into the process, findings or recommendations.

This fear and resulting posture is not without some justification as evaluation in developing countries is sometimes “enforced” by development partners as a means of gaining greater accountability and being able to demonstrate return on their investment.

It can be argued that the end justifies the means, particularly in an environment that places a higher premium on transparency and accountability and the need to demonstrate meaningful outcomes and impact.

It can also be argued that evaluation forces stakeholders to focus more on questions of efficiency, effectiveness, relevance and sustainability which can serve to shift their development perspective.

However, Development Evaluation (DE) is a means of pursuing a development outcome by systematically engaging stakeholders in the process while treating with some of these key evaluation questions in a context relevant way, making adaptations as needed and innovating with the desired end of enhancing their (stakeholders) ownership of and learning from the process and its outcomes as well as their ability to utilise the recommendations in a meaningful and sustainable way.

DE is much more than “a necessary evil” or “invasion”.  It is a critical part of a development intervention process rather than external to it.  It is a highly effective and dynamic approach to “develop” – that engages stakeholders and embraces the complexity of their environment, the diversity of their perspectives and their ability and desire to learn and be social innovators.