Over the past 30 years, evaluation in the development field has gone through multiple cycles of questioning which method is better than another. But few in the development circles in which I have operated, have questioned the standard evaluation criteria that we use.
Many development institutions, including the World Bank, regional development banks, the UN, and bilateral aid agencies subscribe to what has come to be known as the DAC evaluation criteria. Specifically, there are five criteria – relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability; in short R/E/E/I/S – that underpin most evaluation systems in international development.
Evaluation questions get framed around these criteria, and reports get written up using this language. But, many an evaluation struggles to implement these criteria in sincerity. Others are accused of using too much jargon as they report faithfully on these criteria. And often, the evaluations tend to leave readers with unanswered questions.
After nearly 15 years of adhering to the DAC evaluation criteria, is it time for a rethink? Have we reached a Copernican moment where we realize the “earth isn’t flat”, and our definitions and “understanding of the world” need to be reset? Leaving aside jargon and methodological challenges, there are other good reasons to revisit the evaluation criteria we use.
As our societies develop, norms and values shift. While the evaluation criteria appear to be neutral and should be applied as such, they were formed by a set of values. The post-2015 has declared its intention to be more inclusive, respecting under-privileged groups of people, which means we as evaluators need to reflect whether the criteria represent such diverse views. Being able to shape norms that are more inclusive of diversity rather than judge everyone through more limiting norms will be a necessity if 2030 is to become the world we want.