By Michelle Ruiz Valdes
Independent consultant, Member of the National Academy of Evaluators of Mexico (ACEVAL)
In our practice, we are often faced with serious challenges in evaluating interventions in increasingly complex and uncertain contexts. A case in point is what we are experiencing at the beginning of this decade, the Decade of Action coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although evaluation criteria framework of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is seen as one of the key evaluation benchmarks (that were recently updated in an inclusive process), we need today – perhaps more than any other time - methodologies that can guide evaluators on how to apply the criteria to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To manage complexity, we also need guidelines to identify the social, environmental and economic results of actions undertaken to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Complementing the DAC criteria with the principles of the 2030 Agenda
While the 2030 Agenda explicitly states the need to develop effective, efficient, sustainable, and impactful interventions, it does not detail how DAC criteria can be articulated within the guidelines of the universal development agenda. In response, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Mexico has proposed a matrix that incorporates the DAC criteria (vertically) and the principles of the 2030 Agenda (horizontally). See Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Complementary approach - DAC Criteria with the principles of the 2030 Agenda
Source: Adapted from El enfoque de la Agenda 2030 en planes y programas públicos en México (2019, p. 61).
Incorporating the co-benefits approach
The Government of Mexico, in cooperation with the Government of Germany, has coordinated studies that take into account the co-benefits approach in the efforts to articulate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the Paris Agreement for Climate Change. The co-benefit approach is a win-win strategy that assesses the direct, indirect and multi-directional outcomes of a single policy, measure or action (for more information, see Akiko Miyatsuka and Eric Zusman, What are Co-benefits? 2010).
From a sustainable perspective, the results should have social, environmental and economic dimensions and benefits. Based on Spinning the Web: The Co-benefits Approach to an Integrated Implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement in Mexico, a catalogue of criteria and co-benefits is proposed for evaluating interventions to ensure sustainable dimensions. See Figure 2 below.
Figure 2. A multidimensional approach - Catalogue of criteria and co-benefits
Source: Author’s elaboration based on Spinning the Web (2018, p. 24 and 35).
This catalogue allows evaluating the interrelation between two agendas such as the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the national level in Mexico. Through the use of strategic planning tools, actors from different sectors share their knowledge, skills, and experiences to forecast future scenarios that explain what benefits result from this integration in a real life situation. Such knowledge, skills, and experiences have the potential to generate joint identification of necessary integrality conditions (norms, practices and incentives), and give recommendations or practical guidelines to try to achieve the potential scenarios in the short, medium and long terms.
Weaving bridges between experiences: Practical tips
Taking into account experiences presented above, it is important to understand that actions are not spontaneous. It is necessary to develop competencies that empower sustainability-oriented Young and Emerging Evaluators (YEEs). For this, I propose an approach based on involving actors to work together to clarify realities and communicate the potential benefits of including voices of sustainability-oriented YEEs in methodological approaches during the Decade of Action. This includes undertaking an action oriented approach, as detailed in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Action oriented approach
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
- Articulate: Complement criteria with approaches that promote the integration of sustainable development (policy coherence for sustainable development, co-benefits, human rights, gender, among others).
- Communicate: Disseminate the results of the actions under the principle of “leaving no one behind” and the benefits obtained from involving actors both in the development of strategies and methodological tools and in their application.
- Translate: Adapt strategies and methodological tools relevant to the capacities of actors and to the regional, national, subnational and local contexts. This also means, as Spinning the Web indicates, to “translate the results […] into practical guidelines, for public officials in relevant sectors” (2018, p. 35) and for other actors, because the sustainable development implies the co-responsibility of all at different levels.
- Involve: Encourage collaboration between actors and sectors to recognize and strengthen capacities, identify needs and prioritize actions (hard or soft) based on potential social, environmental and economic co-benefits and in the short, medium and long terms to "leave no one behind” .
- Own: Give meaning to the elements of the 2030 Agenda through the prospection of potential scenarios in the short, medium and long terms and, develop competencies for a coherent adoption of its principles in our practices.
- Nuance: Show that the results of actions are not subject to binary judgements; these can be positive, negative, inhibitory, catalytic, collateral and unconscious or unexpected. Under a co-benefits approach, the results of an action can be very different both between dimensions and within them.
The usefulness of this approach is that it could encourage complementarity with the global agenda and, in the same way, it calls for integrated actions in the short, medium, and long terms.
The paths to action are neither homogeneous nor linear; they depend on how evaluators define their role as “agents of change”, “promoters of sustainability” and, for those starting an evaluative practice, as "sustainability-oriented YEEs.”
To define ourselves as evaluators in the complex world of a comprehensive global development agenda, it is important that in our work we acquire the competencies to promote approaches and methodologies that do not replace the past ones, but complement them and provide feedback on what has already been built to influence the actions of the present and the changes of the future.
Figure 4. Competency approach
Source: Author’s own elaboration based on the Eval4Action logo and