Last summer, the European Union released an Evaluation policy for development cooperation. Entitled Evaluation Matters, it notably emphasizes the “Evaluation First principle” which means that good intervention and policy must always be based on robust evidence. Drafting this policy was “quite a learning experience as collectively we had to rethink how to work to ensure the purpose, objective and usefulness of evaluation can be better understood,” said Philippe Loop, Head of the Evaluation Unit for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) at the European Commission.
“Evaluation is not just a tool. It’s not just an administrative process. It’s a state of mind, a culture” explained Charles Raudot de Châtenay, Evaluation Manager within DEVCO. Produced jointly by DEVCO and the European External Action Service (EEAS), this document represents a commitment from management to promote the evaluation culture within the European institutions.
“We felt that there was a need for a clear corporate statement on the role and function of evaluation,” said Mr Loop. “We are working in a development world that is increasingly complex; it’s important to make sure that evaluation is definitely and clearly put in the picture.”
The Policy provides an overall corporate framework for all EU cooperation services, setting out common principles and standards including a commitment to:
- evaluation excellence;
- coherence both within the EU (between headquarters and delegations) and with partners;
- increased transparency.
It could not have come at a better time. 2015 will see an increase in public scrutiny of development and evaluation as it marks both the European Year for Development and the International Year of Evaluation. As more awareness raising activities are taking place, the focus will be on the accountability of interventions and communicating results.
From Accountability to Learning
As stated in its recent Learning & Knowledge Development Strategy, DEVCO has also committed itself to making aid more effective through learning, and evaluation plays a key role in this. Thus DEVCO and EEAS are working to upgrade the role and practice of evaluation in their activities. Evaluation should just not be an afterthought exercise “which we can shelf and proudly show if required. [They should be] something which feeds into and is actually the starting base of policy design” said Marcus Cornaro, Deputy Director General of DEVCO.
While evaluations are a key pillar for DEVCO institutional accountability, the policy also encourages their use to develop a learning culture in DEVCO. Learning from past experience is vital for improving future projects and programmes. Evaluations can do this by responding to questions like why did we get the results we did or what could we have done better?
“It would seem obvious but it is amazing how difficult it is to change the attitudes,” said Mr Cornaro. A change in the culture of evaluation will need management backing. Evaluation should be “much more prominently on the agenda for directors and head of units.”
“What [also] needs to change is general awareness and interest across the board. That evaluations are just as much a source for inspiration as discussions and as other studies,” added Mr Cornaro.
The publication of Evaluation Matters, the development of an Evaluation correspondents’ network and the recent Study on the Uptake of Learning from EuropeAid’s Strategic Evaluations represent the first steps towards this culture change.
Created through a collaborative process, consultations took place not only within headquarters, but also with delegation staff, and wider development partners. Member States were also consulted. Their role was important, as while Member States are not required to adhere to the policy, it will serve as a reference document and basis for joint evaluations.
This piece is published as part of a thematic week on evaluation to mark the start of the International Year of Evaluation. For more information please view the blog: Introduction to Thematic Week on Evaluation, which features a video of Philippe Loop looking back on 2014’s achievements for the evaluation unit and discussing the main challenges for this year.