Evaluation criteria: who wins and who loses from development interventions?

By Oscar Garcia, Director, Independent Office of Evaluation of IFAD

The evaluation criteria developed by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in 1991 influenced the practice of evaluation in a significant way. Relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and impact are amply used, validated and recognized internationally. They are a cornerstone of the global architecture to evaluate development assistance and have been instrumental to improve accountability and learning. The standardized approach allows for aggregation and meta-analysis. What is interesting about the evaluation criteria is their broad applicability. They are useful to assess development interventions in any sector, in health, education, industry, trade, social protection, energy or agriculture.

After many decades of use, the evaluation criteria need some updates. There are three main sources of criticism. The first one comes from the limited scope, arguing that the criteria were developed with projects in mind. Currently, more complex development interventions are needed in policies, programmes or strategies to achieve the expected development outcomes such as eradicating extreme poverty, adapting to climate change or ending hunger. In other words, how the evaluation criteria can be useful in more complex development contexts, adopting a systemic approach. The second one refers to the definitions and their need to be updated, for instance, on the different dimensions of relevance. The third one comes from the rigid application of criteria that may highjack their potential to be used in a variety of contexts. The use of criteria without sufficient consideration of the context in which the evaluation takes place, has been identified as a constraint.

What needs to be done? The OECD DAC evaluation criteria can be kept as they are; be transformed, including by updating their definitions; or be expanded, by adding new criteria.

I am in favour of a combination of transforming them and adding new criteria. The OECD DAC evaluation criteria should continue orienting the evaluation practice and I would not question the importance of keeping them. I would simply adjust the definition of relevance to include the dimension of the appropriateness of design and would be more explicit on the indicators to measure efficiency. The main proposal I have, however, is to add a new criterion.

I propose to add coverage as an evaluation criterion to assess development assistance. Coverage was previously developed by ALNAP as part of the evaluation criteria for humanitarian action. It was understood as the extent to which major population groups were reached by humanitarian action.

In the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, where the ambitious goals demand to reach out to marginalized groups of population in order to eradicate poverty, end hunger and spread prosperity, the disaggregated data on every development initiative needs to come clearly to the fore. Based on IFAD's experience, identifying more clearly the target population and their differentiated needs, which may include indigenous peoples, pastoralists, people with disabilities, women or youth, improves the soundness of the interventions. Adding coverage to the set of evaluation criteria would allow to respond to the political economy question of who benefits and who loses from the development interventions. It has the advantage of universal application. Who benefited from the initiative can be asked in every sector and would be valid according to the initiatives' objectives. Which population groups were reached out and which were left out will answer, in a standardized and systematic way, one of the main concerns about the Agenda 2030, namely to not leave anyone behind.