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Evaluation for Development:
Strengthening the Development
development, development evaluation, thought leadership, evaluation priorities, developing
Over the past decade, the distinctions between developed and developing
countries have become
increasingly blurred. Yet, a main difference remains: With few exceptions, the vulnerabilities of
developing countries are magnified. The poor tend to be poorer, the vulnerable more vulnerable,
institutions and systems more fragile, unstable or dysfunctional, the powerful and powerless more
so, contexts less predictable, and those capacities seen by many as essential to executing conven-
tional development models, lower.
Therefore, while the monitoring and evaluation of development is an exciting and vibrant endea-
vor, it has high stakes. If an evaluation is poorly designed or executed, it can have considerable and
destructive consequences: People, communities, or countries already in a precarious position might
lose their only chance at a better future, or policies and practices that are harmful might continue.
Development evaluators have to respect and engage with such risk, and the profession has to be
responsive to the ensuing challenges. Most crucially, those directing and influencing development
evaluation theory and practice—evaluation commissioners and thought leaders,
evaluators, as well
as organizational leaders and managers—all have to bear the weight of this responsibility when
executing their charge.
This notion also presupposes that evaluation is a valued and valuable activity that is regularly
used to ensure development effectiveness. This is of course not necessarily so; the legacy of poorly
executed evaluations as well as the highly political and technically challenging nature of both
development and development evaluation, interferes. Yet, a firm belief in the relevance, utility, and
Evalnut, Johannesburg, South Africa
Zenda Ofir, Evalnut, P. O. Box 41829, Carighall, Johannesburg 2024, South Africa.
American Journal of Evaluation
ªThe Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permission:
essential contributions of evaluation must continue to guide the profession, especially in countries
still struggling to find their most effective development path.
We live in extraordinary times. The rapid development of new technologies is taking society into
uncharted waters, inequalities are accelerating in many previously prosperous nations and developed
countries face increasing uncertainties. Yet, we can nevertheless celebrate for the first time in history
that hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty, in record time and primarily through their
own efforts, in countries until recent regarded as severely underdeveloped. This short article argues
that in preparation for the exciting yet challenging time ahead, development evaluation requires a
revitalized, purposeful, innovated agenda, nurtured by more visible, dynamic thought leadership
from the ‘‘developing’’ countries themselves, with greater attention to critical issues at the develop-
The Development–Evaluation Interface
Development and evaluation are, or should be, in a dance with each other—the one sometimes lead-
ing, and sometimes the other, learning from each other and working together synergistically to create
something meaningful. Taken together with research, they can be viewed in the same way as a strand
of DNA, building a healthy body of knowledge for development. These metaphors emphasize the
importance of the relationship between development and evaluation, and the need for a greater
emphasis on the intersection between the two, preventing the one from mindlessly leading the other.
This is not a trivial issue. It assumes that we are clear and explicit on the underlying assumptions,
values, and frameworks that underpin and link the two, and that innovation in development evalua-
tion is pursued with attention to the implications or consequences for development and its effective-
ness. This is evaluation for development, rather than the evaluation of development.
For example, excluding or understating the role of power in evaluation negates its importance in
development policies, strategies, and interventions. Using people as experiments and numbers while
ignoring their voices during evaluation is disempowering and dismisses their voice in the course of
their development. Focusing an evaluation on the interests of individuals at the cost of community
harmony reflects an understanding of development where individual interests dominate those of the
collective. Failing to evaluate for weaknesses identified in past development interventions decreases
the chance for development success. Rigidly applying the ubiquitous ‘‘logframes’’ within a usually
too short funding cycle for accountability in results-based management and impact evaluation
neglects the critical reality of ever-evolving development contexts and slow, initially even negative
trajectories of change. Tackling for impact evaluation, one strand of a development intervention
without recognizing that the whole is more (or less) than the sum of the parts, or focusing on the
achievement of (average) impacts without also focusing vigorously on crucial development needs
such equity, transformation, institution building, accountability, sustainability, and resilience, can
inflate measures of success—often at the expense of long-term, sustained, truly effective develop-
ment. And as studies such as ‘‘Time to Listen’’ (CDA, 2012
) highlight, failing to evaluate for
realities on the ground and key weaknesses identified in past development interventions, very
significantly weakens the chance of development success.
Developing countries now also seek to decrease their aid dependency. As highlighted in state-
ments at key forums such as the Fourth High Level meeting on Development Effectiveness in Busan,
developing countries now more than ever insist on the need to direct their own development efforts,
including referring to the many diverse models of successful development available worldwide. This
trend has been accompanied by a growing indigenous focus on evaluation. In this context is likely
inevitable that development imperatives will shift toward perspectives such as those most recently
articulated by leading Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang, who argues that a country can be called
developed only if its high income is based on superior knowledge embodied in technologies and
2American Journal of Evaluation 00(0)
institutions. Interventions that focus on individuals and their small, fragmented enterprises may pro-
vide some building blocks but hardly facilitate development at national level, instead exacerbating
the micro–macro disconnect that haunts development evaluation practice. Sustained development
requires effective, efficient institutions, and productive enterprises supported by the collective accu-
mulation and use of knowledge, and the expansion of those social and technological capabilities that
are ‘‘both the causes and the consequences of such transformation’’ (Chang, 2010
). Yet although
current primarily aid-driven models such as the human development approach remind us that devel-
opment has to be about more than poverty reduction, increasing income levels, or the provision of
basic needs, these and other key global development discourses such as the Millennium Develop-
ment Goals, the Doha Development Agenda, and the World Trade Organization discussions fail
to address some of the most important components for national development. All of this has impor-
tant implications for the evolution of the field of evaluation as it moves in synergy with development
Strengthening the Development Evaluation Agenda
It is beyond the scope of this article to provide a detailed analysis of the development–evaluation
interface. Therefore, the following only highlights a few important priorities for frontier work in
development evaluation. First, more ground-breaking work is needed to bring to the forefront
non-Western worldviews and values in evaluation theory and practice. The profession is poorer for
the absence of a concerted effort in this regard. Second, an increasingly sophisticated understanding
is required for urgent priorities that depend on complexity and systems thinking in a highly net-
worked, competitive world—for example, evaluating impact, sustainability, transformation, and
resilience, or individual, organizational, and institutional empowerment. This implies acquiring a
clearer multidisciplinary understanding and use of work on complex systems, understanding change
and change trajectories, interlinked theories of change, the many different types of relationships
found in partnerships, coalitions, and networks, and the role of power in political and social contexts.
Such a focus will help better address issues such as the ‘‘micro-macro disconnect,’’ the ‘‘missing
middle,’’ and unintended consequences, and support critical development priorities including insti-
tution strengthening, organizational learning and change, knowledge generation and translation for
technological and social advancement, and transformative social change.
Third, alternative financing and funding models are poised to complement and even overtake the
role of conventional aid mechanisms. Several types of investment by Brazil, Russia, India, China,
and South Africa (known as the BRICS) that serve to spur development are gaining momentum
in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. At the same time the private sector in developed countries
appears increasingly interested in investing in financing mechanisms with seductive names such
as ‘‘impact investing’’ and ‘‘social impact bonds.’’ These mechanisms may put vulnerable societies
at risk unless the evaluation profession is from the beginning equipped to help stakeholders plan and
assess the benefits and risks, and in particular any negative consequences following from new fund-
ing modalities—or, for that matter from any development model or strategy.
Fourth, the pendulum needs to move back from enthrallment with simplistic notions of ‘‘measur-
ing impact’’ and determining ‘‘value for money’’ toward enabling—in parallel with these latter
efforts—a smart engagement with managing for impact that goes far beyond conventional process
evaluation and that is based on the many lessons that have emerged from results-based management
and other similar efforts. Fifth, there is a dire need to engage vigorously, in theory and in practice,
with a better understanding and use of standards for evaluation quality, ‘‘rigor’’ and ‘‘credible
evidence’’ that transcend incorrectly or too narrowly defined ideas of the ‘‘scientific method’’ and
so-called magic bullets for measuring impact. Finally, credible, useful syntheses of evaluation
results and lessons should be available and communicated in a manner that can truly support differ-
ent worldviews of development in theory and practice.
Evaluation Thought Leadership for Development
It is time that thought leadership in evaluation theory and practice emerges more visibly from the
global South and East. Champions are needed who have a propensity toward conventional as well
as new indigenous evaluation paradigms. Individual sparks in developing countries need to be
stoked, so that ideas can spread and ignite meaningful innovation and new directions in evaluation.
There has been significant progress in building indigenous evaluation capacities and recent global
efforts such as EvalPartners provide scope for much more. However, capacity strengthening efforts
tend to focus on technical aspects of evaluation within established approaches and frameworks, pri-
marily results-based management. Although welcome and essential contributions, they may not
encourage or stimulate deeper questioning of these and alternative approaches and frameworks.
In most developing countries, the profession is barely a decade old and continues to be led by
theories and practices that originated in North America and Europe. The field of evaluation can grow
and benefit from the definitions, frameworks, models, and methods also rooted in many other coun-
tries’ experiences and systems of knowing. Developing countries have rich cultures with knowledge
and wisdom spanning thousands of years—often as relevant today as ever—that have yet to be
applied to the field of evaluation.
This is not about ‘‘cultural sensitivity,’’ but rather about the fundamental questioning of world-
views, frameworks, and definitions on which evaluation theory and practice—and resultant devel-
opment—have been built. The potential for new theories and practices that might revolutionize
development evaluation is not yet quite clear, but fledgling efforts need to be harnessed and
nurtured. The knowledge and wisdom of the rest of the world needs to complement the 50 years
of advancements in the West that have established and evolved the rich body of knowledge and
expertise on which we draw today.
The explosion in the profession of, and demand for, evaluation over the past decade has attracted
many poorly prepared practitioners from many professions, disciplines, and practices, both from
developed and from developing countries. Development evaluation has yet to attract more of the finest
minds from diverse disciplines and sectors to practice full time. This situation is likely to change sub-
stantially only when incentives exist, when more governments and other influential entities in devel-
oping countries recognize and demand high-quality evaluation and perceive it as a strategic,
intellectually challenging endeavor that is also linked with high-quality academic research. More
importantly, thought leadership from the global South and East needs to have the power to change
practice. This means reaching and influencing evaluation commissioners, those who work with aid
programs and those who work in-country with development strategies and funding modalities. Such
power is still limited by capacities; innovation often takes place when what exists has been mastered.
Insufficient confidence and incentives are still hampering progress. Papers and presentations are too
few, with too little traction to cultivate sustained influence. Thought leadership from developing coun-
tries needs to bring about high-quality and useful analyses and innovations benefiting their own coun-
tries’ priorities and contexts; establish repositories with useful syntheses; build influential coalitions
and think tanks; ensure dynamic participation at important development forums, and have a robust
focus on visibility. From small beginnings, thought leaders in developing countries have to nourish
and accelerate the positive trajectory of the evaluation profession worldwide.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
4American Journal of Evaluation 00(0)
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
1. In this article, the term developing refers to countries—primarily in the low- and lower middle-income group
of nations—where large groups of the population have a relatively low level of human development, including
limited capabilities to enjoy a long and healthy life in a safe environment. Such countries typically lack
robust, effective institutions, and continuous, self-sustaining economic growth—although with many devel-
oping countries currently on an upward growth trajectory, this is not always the case.
2. This rather uncomfortable term refers to a person who has a proven, in-depth understanding of an issue in
theory or practice, uses this understanding to innovate, and is keen and able to share novel, often radical
thinking and new directions that inspire others. These latter characteristics are especially important, distin-
guishing the ‘‘thought leader’’ from the conventional ‘‘expert’’ who may not necessarily be committed to
transformation, improvement, innovating, sharing with, or inspiring others.