E-discussion: Evaluating SDGs with an equity-focused & gender responsive lens (no one left behind)

The purpose of the consultations (18th Jan-18th Feb 2016)

Following the approval of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN General Assembly and by the international development community in 2015, EvalPartners (including EvalGender+) and United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG)’s members have begun to form working groups to strengthen monitoring and evaluation systems to assess these different goals.  The purpose of the present consultations, organized by EvalGender+, UNEG and the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) of UN Women, is to provide guidance to strengthen M&E systems to assess all SDGs with an equity-focused and gender-responsive lens, in addition to Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) and Goal 10 (Reduce inequality within and among countries).  The above mentioned agencies and network, in collaboration with other strategic stakeholders, are planning to prepare a guidance note that will assist both actors directly involved in social equity and gender equality, as well as all actors involved with the evaluation of the SDGs, in ensuring that social equity and gender equality are adequately addressed in all of the SDG evaluations. It is intended to produce a first version of this Guidance note by June 2016.  The SDG strategy is to work through, and to help strengthen existing M&E systems at the national and local levels and consequently the focus of the present consultations is on indicators and approaches that can be implemented through existing M&E structures – many of which may have limited experience and resources to address social equity and gender equality issues.

In addition to their importance as stand-alone sustainable development goals, both of these are cross-cutting themes that must be integrated into the assessment of all of the other goals.  For example, the achievement of Goal 2 (end hunger), Goal 3 (ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages), Goal 7 (ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable modern energy) and Goal 13 (take urgent action to combat climate change) – to mention only four, all have important gender dimensions that affect the achievement of these goals.  Similarly, there are social equity dimensions to all goals. To read more on SDGs visit the link "Transforming our world:  The 2030 agenda for sustainable development.https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

The consultations identify four important themes that must be addressed in the M&E systems to assess SDGs with an equity-focused and gender-equality lens, in addition to goals 5 and 10:

  • Theme 1:  The relevance of “new metrics” (measurement tools and indicators) for the evaluation of SDGs from an equity-focused and gender-responsive perspective.
  • Theme 2:  Evaluation and complexity – Dealing with the increasing complexity of development and interconnectedness of SDGs to ensure “no one is left behind”
  • Theme 3:  Towards equity-focused and gender-responsive national evaluation systems – Multi-stakeholder partnerships to strengthen national evaluation capacities
  • Theme 4:  Demand for and use of evidence from equity-focused and gender responsive evaluation to inform equitable development

Each of these themes has different implications in different countries, regions, sectors and according to the type of organization.  Consequently we invite you to share your experiences and perspectives to assist the EvalGender+, UNEG, UN Women IEO teams in ensuring that the Guidance Note will reflect the diversity of experiences and perspectives in different countries, regions and types of organization.


Theme 1:  The relevance of “new metrics” (measurement tools and indicators) for the evaluation of SDGs from an equity-focused and gender-responsive perspective.

In recent years a number of “new metrics” have evolved which can potentially widen the range of indicators and measures available for the monitoring and evaluation of development results from equity and gender responsive perspectives. These include:

  • Data that can now be collected through mobile phones, tablets, internet, GPS mapping and other new information technologies
  • Big Data collected from satellites and drones, remote sensors, analysis of twitter and social media, mobile phone records, digital electronic transfers including purchase of mobile-phone air time and ATM withdrawals and crowdsourcing
  • Participatory consultations (e.g. Most Significant Change, Outcome Harvesting, PRA)
  • Concept mapping
  • Mixed methods evaluations and
  • Feminist research methods (e.g. oral history, feminist ethnography and content analysis, power relations, social justice and empowerment approaches)

Participants are invited to share their thoughts and experiences on the following questions (as well as others they propose)as they relate to equity-focused and gender responsive evaluation.

  • In your experience what are some of the limitations of current data collection methods and the kinds of indicators they produce?
  • What are the most difficult issues to measure with respect to social equity? and with respect to gender equality?
  • What are the new challenges for assessing sustainable social equity and gender equality?
  • What have proved some of the most effective methods?
  • In addition to those mentioned above, what other new metrics are you familiar with?
  • Which of the new metrics show the greatest promise?

Theme 2: Evaluation and complexity – Dealing with the increasing complexity of development and interconnectedness of SDGs to ensure “no one is left behind”

As SDGs are interconnected, national policies and programme to implement them will be complex. As programs grow in size and scope, the number of partners and stakeholders and in terms of the kinds of social and behavioral changes they seek to produce, they become more complex – both in terms of how they are designed and implemented, but also in terms of how they must be evaluated.  Complexity is defined in terms of: (a) the nature of the programme, (b) the number of partners and stakeholders and the patterns of interaction among them (including the level of consensus or disagreement among them on the goals of the programs), (c) the number of external (contextual) factors that influence how the programme is implemented and its outcomes and (d) the complexity of the causal chains through which outcomes are to be achieved.  A number of additional factors are particularly important for the evaluation of social equity and gender equality, including: (i) social and cultural constraints and pressures, (ii) the power relationships and social definition of gender relations and social equity, (iii) multiple influences on processes of behavioral change, (iv) the role of social media, and (v) the long, non-linear causal chains through which changes are produced.

Participants are invited to share their thoughts and experiences on the following questions (as well as others they propose) as they relate to equity-focused and gender responsive evaluation.

  • Which dimensions of complexity are most important in your work on social equity and gender equality?
  • How does complexity affect our understanding of the effectiveness of different interventions on the production of changes in social equity and gender equality?
  • What methods and approaches have you found most effective for understanding the outcomes of complex programs on social equity and gender equality?
  • The processes of change are long, involving many actors and contextual factors.  Also the processes are not linear as advances on one front often involve set-backs on others.  What kinds of evaluation strategies have you found most effective in these complex scenarios?
  • What are the special challenges for understanding the impacts of different interventions on the most vulnerable populations?  What evaluation methods are most effective for studying these very sensitive processes of change?

Theme 3: Towards equity-focused and gender-responsive national evaluation systems – Multi-stakeholder partnerships to strengthen national evaluation capacities


The SDGs pose challenges for national evaluation systems as the SDGs require the involvement of a broader range of stakeholders, a broadening of the range of indicators to be measured and the methodological and organizational problems required to assess sustainability which requires collecting data over a much longer period of time.  Many programmes are intended to produce benefits that continue over five or even ten years and the evaluation must (ideally) continue over all of this period.  So instead of conventional evaluations that often only cover the 3-5 years of project implementation, the SDG evaluations may be required to continue for twice as long.  The application of a social equity and gender equality lens will often present additional challenges for national evaluation systems, including the fact that the evaluation of gender outcomes and impacts is often the weakest part of many national evaluation systemsand the methodologies for evaluating social equity are also not well developed in many countries (or in the evaluation literature in general).  Given resource constraints of many evaluation agencies, it will often not be possible to consider specialized evaluations that focus exclusively on equity and gender, and it will be necessary to adapt standard M&E methodologies to address these issues.  It will be important to consider the extent to which some of the multi-shareholder partnerships can bring in agencies with expertise in these areas and with additional resources that may permit the selective application of gender and equity focused data collection and analysis methodologies


Participants are invited to share their thoughts and experiences on the following questions (as well as others they propose) as they relate to equity focused and gender-responsive evaluation.

  • In your experience what will be the main challenges that national evaluation systems will face when evaluating social equity and gender equality?
  • In the countries with which you are familiar, how well established are the methodologies for evaluating these two areas.
  • Which kinds of organization have the most experience in the evaluation of these two areas?  Are these organizations already part of the national evaluation systems?  If not, what will be required to ensure their active involvement?
  • What kinds of evaluation capacity development will be required to strengthen the capacity of the national evaluation systems to address these issues?
  • What are the example of successful partnership in your country or in your area of work to strengthen M&E systems in general, and equity-focused and gender-responsive systems in particular?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges for such partnerships?

Theme 4:  Demand for and use of evidence from equity-focused and gender responsive evaluation to inform equitable development


Experience from all regions and sectors shows that one of the biggest challenges facing evaluation systems is the very low rate of utilization of evaluations.  In many cases evaluation findings do not reach many of the key organizations and groups (including community and women’s organizations), in other cases they are not presented in a form which is easily accessible to some groups, particularly the most vulnerable.  Even when evaluations are reviewed, action is often not taken on many of the recommendations.  These challenges are likely to be even more serious for social equity and gender equality as these themes are less familiar to many organizations and the mechanisms to review and action are often less developed.


Participants are invited to share their thoughts and experiences on the following questions (as well as others they propose) as they relate to equity focused and gender-responsive evaluation.

  • In your experience what are the factors affecting the demand for and use of evaluation?
  • Are there additional factors affecting the demand and utilization of social equity and gender equality evaluations?
  • How could the demand and utilization of these evaluations be increased?
  • What types of evaluation presentations would you propose to make evaluation more accessible to stakeholders?




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Dear colleagues,

I like this initiative and I hope it has impact all over the world, even in Western Europe. As a modest European evaluator and the coordinator of the Gender and Evaluation Thematic Working Group of the EES, I really feel we need to advance a lot in this way. In my region, there is no money for public policies and less for evaluation. These are some the results of the crisis.

As to gender and evaluation, it is not a central issue at all. Gender equality is not in the core of European public policies and we need to promote more gender-transformative policies and more policy coherence for development.

Regarding this e-discussion, I really feel it is very complex. It looks like a postgraduate exam on gender and evaluation… My PhD research was focused on this topic and I find not easy to answer all of these questions… If we really want to involve civil society organizations, we have to think in a simpler way and, overall, train women’s and feminist organizations as well as men pro-equality organizations.

In relation to the different themes, I would like to share some ideas:

Theme 1:  The relevance of “new metrics”

Data from phone, tablet, internet, big data… could be really useful for looking at gender advances and challenges. For this, we need to have data disaggregated by sex but not only this. The most important is to consider critical gender dimensions in the definition of our indicators. The most important gender dimensions are: sexual division of labor and different gender roles, participation of women and men in private and public spheres, the control of the use of women’s bodies, practical and strategic gender needs, different use of time by women and men, and the unequal access to and control over resources, benefits and services.

You can find more info in the following paper: https://www.academia.edu/5627223/_Promoting_Human_Rights_and_Gender...

Additionally, we need mixed methods if we want not only to measure but also to understand how social change and, therefore, gender change happens. Specifically, gender analysis tools and feminist methodologies are key to get relevant gender information and empower people. There are good pieces of work and we need to disseminate them, train people, engage them in the promotion of an evaluation culture and the gender equality.

Theme 2: Evaluation and complexity

The work on gender equality often faces a lot of resistances (organizational, social, operative resistances). It is a very controversial issue. Gender equality is understood from very diverse perspective and not all of these understanding have a transformative approach.

If we want to promote transformative evaluation in terms of gender equality, we should look at: how much does the programme take into account the three roles (productive, reproductive and community)? Does it promote a well-balanced distribution of tasks between the sexes? Is there a balanced participation of women and men in the intervention? Are there activities designed and developed to cause a change in rules of participation of women and men? Does the programme promote the idea that women be the ones who make the decisions about their own bodies? Are measures taken to increase the access to and control over resources, benefits and services by women? Is a greater balance between sexes in this way promoted?, among other evaluation questions.

Theme 3: Towards equity-focused and gender-responsive national evaluation systems – Multi-stakeholder partnerships to strengthen national evaluation capacities

We need to promote more training. Specifically, as I said before, it is necessary to train civil society organizations. They are doing very good works in this regard. For example, the Shadow Report (related to CEDAW). We need to involve feminist and women’s organization.

It could be quite complicate because it implies to open public policies to social participation. In any case, evaluation could be a good moment and opportunity to make political processes more democratic.

In national evaluation systems, we are going to face a lot, a lot, a lot of resistances if we don’t have gender champions, gender experts as well as funds and time to include gender and equity issues in the evaluation. Both issues are marginal issues nowadays.

Theme 4:  Demand for and use of evidence from equity-focused and gender responsive evaluation to inform equitable development

 In the case of evaluations from a gender perspective, the main disabling factor is the current political atmosphere in Europe. Gender equality and social equality is not key in the political agenda. So, if we have evaluation exercises that include this perspective, people don’t use it because it is not seen as anpriority.

Well, I hope my comments are useful for this process. In any case, I feel that a lot work needs to be done to operationalize the proposal in the actual evaluation policy and practice. How to involve the different stakeholders and contribute to their ownership of the evaluation?

Gender equality commitment often evaporates in the political practice. There are a lot of references about this process. So, we need to learn from the gender mainstreaming practices and studies to avoid the same resistances and difficulties.

Best regards from Seville,


Most people view    Evaluation as athreat to   their freedom at work and would like  to do everything posible to shut  it down due to misunderstanding, in my opinion I think their is a  need to make it amore friendly activity to avoid the coplexity that make people fear it, if we are to make every one involved in the SDGs.

Responses/resources: query on Monitoring and evaluating complex programs

Query poser- Hassan Ouali 

Network- Pelican

Contributors- BOB WILLIAMS , Sandra Basgall, Alison O. Wescott , Ricardo Wilson-Grau, Michael O'Donnell, Patricia Rogers, Irene Pietersen


Gender and Evaluaiton online community of practice

Contributors: Liisa Horelli,  Pablo Rodriguez Bilella , Julia Espinosa and Rituu B Nanda


Sample here - http://www.bobwilliams.co.nz/Systems_Resources.html

eBook version purchase here ($US12)    http://www.gumroad.com/l/wicked


Physical book version purchase here ($25)   http://bit.ly/1SVoOH3

(also available from Amazon)

And the previous book “Systems Concepts in Action” with Richard Hummelbrunner.   Available from the usual sources.

plus the free systems, facilitation, organizational development and evaluation resources at  http://www.bobwilliams.co.nz



2. CRS's ProPack II, available at http://www.crs.org/our-work-overseas/research-publications/propack-iii


3. Dealing with Complexity in Development Evaluation, A Practical Approach by MIchael Bamberger, Jos Vaessen, Estelle Raimondo Editors. It is really an excellent treatment of the various dimensions of complexity, and offers practical approaches and tools for evalution.  I would highly recommend the book if you can get 


4. Developmental Evaluation was created for situations in which from the moment of planning there is high uncertainty about relationships of cause and effect  that continues throughout implementation because of dynamic conditions for the project, programme or organisation. If that is what you mean by “complex”, then you may find the dozen case studies in Developmental Evaluation Exemplars: Principles in Practice, edited by Michael Quinn Patton PhD, Kate McKegg and Nan Wehipeihana to be useful.


Responding to evaluator and instructor demand, this book presents a diverse set of high-quality developmental evaluation (DE) case studies. Twelve insightful exemplars illustrate how DE is used to evaluate innovative initiatives in complex, dynamic environments, including a range of fields and international settings. Written by leading practitioners, chapters offer a rare window into what it takes to do DE, what roles must be fulfilled, and what results can be expected. Each case opens with an incisive introduction by the editors. The book also addresses frequently asked questions about DE, synthesises key themes and lessons learned from the exemplars, and identifies eight essential principles of DE.


   See it at: http://www.amazon.com/Developmental-Evaluation-Exemplars-Principles... 



5. IDS Bulletin from last year devoted to complexity and systems thinking in evaluation: http://www.ids.ac.uk/publication/towards-systemic-approaches-to-eva...

6. Sue Funnell and Patricia Rogers explored these issues, about how to respond to complexity, in book on program theory Purposeful Program Theory.


We found it useful to use the Glouberman and Zimmerman distinction between what is complicated (lots of elements) and what is complex (adaptive and emergent) and we explored the implications in terms of developing, representing and using program theory.  We identified 7 issues that could be important:


Governance - whose program and program theory is it?  Are there different agendas? Are there emergent agendas?

Focus - what are the intended outcomes and impacts in the program theory?  Are they different?  Emergent?

Causality - necessariness and sufficiency?  Are there complicated causal packages involved in producing the impacts?  Are the causal packages changing often?

Consistency - should the program be the same everywhere?  Should it be adapted in ways that can be identified and prescribed in advance?  Or does it need to be adapted always to specific contexts?

Change trajectory - is the trajectory of change readily predictable (we often assume a straight line)?  Or predictable with expertise?  Or unpredictable?

Unintended outcomes - how can program theory identify possible unintended outcomes (eg using Carol Weiss' technique of negative program theory)?  How can monitoring and evaluation stay alert to unanticipated and emergent unintended outcomes?


7. There's more detail on these in a conference presentation I did for GIZ in 2011 and in a recent publication I did for the Office of the Chief Economist in Australia's Department of Industy, Innovation and Science 'Choosing approriate designs and methods for impact evaluation' (See Appendix 3).

8. Article from Nigel Simister http://www.intrac.org/data/files/resources/663/Developing-ME-System...

9. Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH) by Reynolds & Williams (2012) Systems thinking and equity-focused evaluations


10. Burns, D. (2014) ‘Systemic Action Research: Changing Systemic Dynamics to support sustainable change’ in  Action Research Journal



11. Experiences  http://gendereval.ning.com/forum/topics/eval-sdgs




We need a certain sophistication for all four themes - metrics, tools as well as the demand and use of evaluation. Yet the reality on the ground that for each of the questions posed under the themes, the availability of solutions and options are basic and limited. The questions are useful to guide us towards what is needed and has a purposeful way forward and ensure that during the SDG timeframe we reach our goals. I believe that we will have to simultaneously have to address all if we would like to have an impact. We will need to build capacity for Theme One, advocate for nuanced understanding of impact of gender and equity for Theme Two (that goes beyond the mere disaggregation of data) and with Theme Three and Four ensure that we are able to embed equity and gender in our policy and programs with our decision makers, civil society and researchers arguing for better and more data to support the rights that addressing equity and gender implicitly suggest. I would like to suggest that we must have cross-cutting themes of participation and culture responsiveness across all themes. This will lead to ownership and sustainability

Best wishes

Sonal Zaveri, PhD

Secretary, Community of Evaluators, South Asia


I would like share some thoughts based on my experience in working in urban development in India and also some work in gender in urban planning. This may particularly relevant for Theme-1.

social equity, gender equality and domains such as urban development, largely exist as disconnected discources. Al though lately there has been some inteventions though designing of a few urban housing development programmes, the major urban development programmes continue to use indicators and metrics which are old in their construct. The processes show overwhelming use of data and indicators which reflect ' average' performance and do not facilitate a disaggregated assessment of status of the same indicators in different geographic pockets within the city, and within various population groups. Use of sex dis-aggregated data is limited to vital demographic indicators such as sex ratio and literacy rates and does not really capture gender dimensions in critical aspets, such as the kind of negative gender roles fostered through non-availability of service provisions such as water and sanitation. On the other hand, these discussions exist in pro-poor development agenda's, however, fail to get mainstreamed in the formal discourse of urban development programmes which have wider scope. Thus even when vision statements include social equity as a goal, this is not actually translated in the plan preparation process, proposals and outcome, as these do not use necessary indicators which can reflect status of social equity.

It will be critical to recognise the cross linkages between various programmes under different departments/ ministries of national governments in light of the interconnected nature of SDGs. This can facilitate bringing convergence in implementation.


Hi all,

Kindly allow me to start this reply to  Shrimoyee by thanking firstly those who thought up and established this global conversation, Rituu for the brilliantly engaging way she has facilitated the conversations and most of all those who have posted their thoughts, experiences and even queries.

Do forgive me for the length of this post and bear with me for the fact that I do not seem to be addressing any of the specific questions raised. I guess I can be excused as this is the last day I was encouraged by the imminent end of this discussion to share my rather random thoughts.  

I have learnt a lot and although I am a little nervous and anxious about how all this richness can be captured loyally, I am in no doubt that we have  heard global voices from all parts of the world. This by itself is powerful. I personally feel a slight sense of loss as to the paucity of messages from the global north which is so rich in evaluation experience and wonder why. But let me stick to my central message which is to pick up Shrimoyee's last point  which states that;

'It will be critical to recognise the cross linkages between various programmes under different departments/ ministries of national governments in light of the interconnected nature of SDGs. This can facilitate bringing convergence in implementation.

This is a crucial point - that of bringing convergence in SDG implementation in the service gender equality and global human rights.

If we who have the commitment and responsibility do not provide the/some framework/s, tools & techniques to achieve gender equality, justice & equity through development  programming and evaluation we would have failed the world and generations unborn and contributed to global disunity & discord.

What must we do therefore? There is a general understanding that embedded in all the 17 SDGs are issues of gender equality and other equities therefore our engagement does not, MUST NOT end with SDG 5 but must permeate all other 16 Goals.  Simply put, what this means for those of us in this space is that we do NOT think about, and if possible, supply the critical conceptual and analytical tools for interrogating or assuring the gender responsiveness ONLY of some or a few of the SDGs but of ALL of them.  Well said one might say, but as Julia Espinosa, one of the handful of contributors to this discussion from Europe and a foremost researcher on gender & evaluation tells us, 'I feel that a lot work needs to be done to operationalize the proposal in the actual evaluation policy and practice? This is on target because of so many reasons that many contributors have given in this conversation.

It seems to me that to bring convergence in the SDG implementation in the service of gender equality and global human rights, we need to start with a framing and or guidance document. I came across one (from the health sector prepared by WHO) I thought is an excellent example that we might look to for preparing something similar to support the evaluation of each SDG working primarily with the indicators that have been developed and agreed to date.

I am not sure how many of us are familiar with the SDG indicator process so far. I attach herewith a short update on that as well. 

I am simultaneously encouraged & discouraged that as we celebrate yet another International Women's Day (March 8th) we are still so far from attaining full global gender equality.    


If I know Marco & his team well I have a strong suspicion that this kind of plan is already in the works!!! The EvalGender+ events next week I see are all feeding into this crescendo. Check them out an make sure to join in

Good job Marco & all concerned.   

I hear you clearly Dr. Etta!

Looks like you really know Marco and his Team. I also like what has gone through this Global Consultation. To Rituu and the Team that have successfully moderated this and shared with the networks, hats off!

God willing, may see you in New York!

Dear Shrimoyee,

Thanks for your response. Please could you explain further on what you mention-  'facilitate a disaggregated assessment' . Who will facilitate with whom? What in your experience works?



Dear friends, 

please  find  my feedback for theme 3 in  attached doc. This feedback based on my own experiences, observations and know how . This is more personal opinion



Dear colleagues,

I would like to contribute a resource to Theme 3 of the query: UN Women has developed a Training Manual “Building Gender Responsive and Transformative National Evaluation Capacity”. It results from a collaboration with the Africa Centre for Transformative and Inclusive Leadership (ACTIL) and Evalgender+. The training curriculum was successfully tested during a pilot training in Nov 2015 with participants from Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. The Training Manual can be found here http://gendereval.ning.com/forum/topics/un-women-training-manual-bu...

Thank you again to all colleagues who have contributed to developing this Training Manual. Please don’t hesitate to ask for questions.

Caspar Merkle

AGDEN is currently busy with a study in Benin, South Africa and Uganda looking at the gender-responsiveness of the National M&E systems. Although the data is only being collected at present some learnings of South Africa is relevant for this discussion.

The Government Wide M&E System (National M&E System) has transformed from what focused more on monitoring to evaluation. This has significant implications when looking at evaluation (and evaluation systems) in isolation. For one it brings a temporal aspect to the diagnosis and moves away from a "perfect system" to look at the system at present and how the system (whether it is well developed and evolved) are responsive to gender and equality. 

Although the monitoring and evaluation (and planning) functions can be regarded on their own, they form one system and looking only at one aspect gives a simplistic picture (e.g. having gender responsive indicators for evaluations are removed from making all performance monitoring indicators gender responsive). It is systemic changes that are needed for both. Enabling factors seem to vary and include legislative compliance (especially for performance monitoring) and demand (for evaluations focusing on a specific gender theme). Partnerships and relationships between different role players from public (Departments in general, Department of Women and Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation specifically), civil society and private sectors (and in South African context the constitutional commissions) are critical.  


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