By Sarah Farina
On April 26, 2023, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/77/283, titled "Strengthening Voluntary National Reviews through Country-led Evaluation." This Resolution, led by Nigeria and co-sponsored by 24 Member States, marks a pivotal moment for the evaluation community. The resolution calls for countries to prioritize country-led evaluations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and integrate evaluative evidence into decision-making processes. The resolution also calls on countries to include evaluation components in their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). VNRs are the primary platform at the United Nations for countries to share best practices, success stories, and common challenges in SDG implementation.
This resolution follows on other work at the United Nations which emphasizes the importance of evaluation, notably a resolution in 2014 that committed to building evaluation capacity. Both the 2014 and the 2023 resolution were supported by EvalPartners, a partnership between the United Nations, Voluntary Organizations for Professional Evaluation (VOPEs), governments, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, development banks and other partners.
It has been my privilege to Chair the EvalPartners Task Force that supported this resolution with the help of diverse partners. The Task Force worked closely to support Nigeria and the other Member States that co-sponsored and supported the development of this resolution. The 2023 resolution represents a momentous shift in political will, with countries taking leadership of evaluation and making strong commitments to commissioning and using evaluation to support decision-making, policy formulation, development of national strategies and reporting on SDGs through VNRs.
The resolution provides guidance for how countries can use evaluation to create effective and more equitable strategies, plans and policies. The resolution highlights the following key messages:
Evaluation is instrumental in providing timely and credible evidence to regain and accelerate progress towards the SDGs.
Countries are encouraged to present regular VNRs with a country-led evaluation component.
Evaluative evidence can empower governments to improve decision-making for effective and more equitable strategies, plans and policies.
Evaluation should include the full, equal and meaningful participation of all relevant stakeholders, including local governments, Indigenous Peoples, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector.
The adoption of resolution A/RES/77/283 is an important step in encouraging broad use of country-led evaluation to accelerate the SDGs, and we must all consider what we can each contribute to implementing the resolution. Bringing this resolution to life will rely on building new relationships and thinking creatively.
There are some clear next steps:
Raising awareness of the resolution among countries and stakeholders.
Building an enabling environment for evaluation at the country level.
Developing guidelines and tools for equity-focused and gender-responsive evaluation.
Consolidating lessons learned and sharing experience and insights about how to integrate evaluation and evaluative evidence into VNRs.
In order to focus effectively on the greatest contributions that can be made by each sector, there are some key roles that can make a difference:
Leadership by national governments
National governments hold the key to the successful implementation of evaluation. Governments will be most effective where they demonstrate the political will to prioritize establishing an enabling environment for evaluation, build evaluation capacities, foster partnerships with evaluation stakeholders, and embed evaluation mechanisms in their development plans and strategies. Governments have the power to focus evaluation on national priorities, use evaluation to inform evidence-based policymaking and improve and adapt policies and programmes, and direct their investments where they are most effective and impactful. All actors can play a role in advocating for governments to take leadership on evaluation.
Governments have the power to focus evaluation on national priorities, use evaluation to inform evidence-based policymaking and improve and adapt policies and programmes, and direct their investments where they are most effective and impactful.
United Nations agencies as partners
United Nations agencies could prioritize partnering with countries who wish to lead evaluations at the national level to support decision-making and use in their VNRs. This could include supporting countries to develop evaluation frameworks, building evaluation capacities throughout the government agencies with responsibilities related to evaluation, including planning, statistics, evaluation and reporting on VNRs, and fostering a culture of evidence-based decision-making within their government agencies and decision-making structures. Additionally, collaboration among United Nations agencies and evaluation partners is crucial for leveraging resources, knowledge sharing, and ensuring coordinated efforts towards sustainable development.
Empowering evaluation commissioners
Evaluation commissioners such as funders, government agencies and parliaments play a pivotal role in driving evaluation efforts. They have the opportunity to ensure that evaluation is structured to support national goals, and they can allocate sufficient resources and ensure that evaluation findings are integrated into decision-making processes and policy formulation. Additionally, evaluation commissioners can facilitate partnerships and collaborations to empower various stakeholders to strengthen evaluation systems and practices.
Civil society at the core of evaluation
VOPEs are essential stakeholders in promoting and supporting evaluation. They play a vital role in capacity building, knowledge sharing, and promoting evaluation practices at the national and sub-national levels. VOPEs will need to keep themselves aware of activities related to the resolution so that their leadership can ensure that VOPEs support and collaborate with others involved in evaluating the SDGs. Many other organizations, networks and initiatives are also joining in the movement to advocate for or build the evaluation field, ensuring that evaluation is inclusive, seen through a lens of gender equity, and responsive to key social and environmental priorities. Besides fostering connections within and between these entities, it's crucial to empower and support young and emerging evaluators in leading the development of evaluation practices aligned with local and global values and priorities.
VOPEs will need to keep themselves aware of activities related to the resolution so that their leadership can ensure that VOPEs support and collaborate with others involved in evaluating the SDGs.
In support of implementing the resolution, VOPEs, EvalPartners and its networks EvalYouth, EvalGender+, EvalIndigenous, Global Parliamentarians Forum for Evaluation, EvalSDGs and other evaluation actors can prioritize supporting implementation of the resolution. This may include convening evaluation actors to learn and share their experiences, and actively engaging with national governments, United Nations agencies, and evaluation commissioners to advocate for and support the evaluation of SDGs and the inclusion of evaluation in the VNR process.
Building the evaluation ecosystem
EvalPartners launched a Global EvalAgenda in 2015 to provide a shared agenda for actors across sectors who wanted to contribute to building the evaluation ecosystem. There are many more actors in the ecosystem now than when EvalPartners first launched the Global EvalAgenda. We have the opportunity to learn more about the evolving ways that different organizations and networks are building capacity, developing practice and using evaluation. It is important at this time to acknowledge and value the contributions being made across the ecosystem toward our shared goals. I’m excited to see some of these big picture aspirations reflected in the renewed EvalAgenda currently in development and I hope that anyone who has an interest in evaluation is either part of the process or connects with the process to ensure that the coming EvalAgenda is a true reflection of the potential of our many roles and approaches.
If those of us who have a stake in evaluation can align with this resolution and bolster the commitment of countries to evaluation through our advocacy and support to governments to incorporate evaluation into VNRs and use evaluation for decision-making, we have a significant opportunity to contribute to SDG acceleration.
I am confident that, together, we can use this resolution to make a real difference in advancing towards the SDGs to improve the lives of people around the world. I urge you to be creative and consider what role you can play in implementing the resolution on “Strengthening Voluntary National Reviews through Country-led Evaluation."
This blog was co-published on the EvalPartners website.
Sarah Farina is Founder and Principal at Broadleaf Consulting. She chaired the EvalPartners Task Force supporting the recently adopted UN Resolution on evaluation co-sponsored by 24 Member States. She has served as Treasurer for the International Organization for Cooperation in Evaluation (IOCE) and EvalPartners and she is a past President of the Canadian Evaluation Society. Follow Sarah on Twitter and contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.