The 5 Practices of SDG-ready Evaluation

Reprinted from: 

In September 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations signed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This global framework of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets will guide national and international public policy. Over the next 15 years, with these new Goals that universally apply to all, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.[1]

The Global Agenda calls for evaluation as an important strategy for systematic review of our progress toward the SDGs. Evaluators, policy makers and civil society members are now having important conversations to figure out just how to be fit-for-purpose, i.e. ready and working toward the Global Agenda 2030. UN organizations are conducting corporate evaluations, governments have appointed senior advisors, academics are refocusing their research, and civil society has been activated. So what about evaluation?

I was recently inspired by these conversations at a high-level meeting and follow-up technical workshops sponsored by EvalPartners, EvalGender+ and several UN organizations. Evaluators have indeed begun exciting conversations about how to become SDG-ready. With that in mind, and crediting all those listed below, I offer five practices that emerge as key strategies for us to be SDG-ready evaluators, or as Michael Patton says, blue-marble evaluators.

  1. PROCESSS: The evaluation process is the outcome, and we evaluators must invite all participants to influence it—i.e. all stakeholders should have input in the questions, the scope, the process, the interpretation, and recommendations.
  2. MINDFULNESS: Evaluators must learn to practice mindfulness to enable themselves to be at a heightened stage of awareness, to listen more deeply, and exercise self-control in the evaluation process.
  3. FACILITATION: Evaluators must facilitate evaluations that enable people to speak with each other openly in ways that protect those with less power, and enable everyone to listen.
  4. BLUE-MARBLE THINKING: Evaluators should take on a blue-marble perspective—i.e. consider issues from the perspective of the earth, our blue planet, as one.
  5. NO ONE LEFT BEHIND: Evaluators must develop strategies to reach out to everyone, and make sure no one is left behind. Embracing of differences, evaluators must act as conduits inviting to the table those who usually have no access.

The SDGs are asking us to work across boundaries—cross-border, cross-sector, cross-gender—and to look for what is not seen readily. We are asked to include different perspectives being sensitive to gender, culture, political affiliation, age, income, education, and reach out for those who cannot be easily seen and heard. And we aim to make evaluation a channel for open, inclusive and collaborative interactions.

A brief overview of some of the dialog already begun within the evaluation community follows. 

In all these conversations, a common thread is clear. We see new roles for evaluators – facilitators, action researchers, illuminators of systems, communicators and advocates—and we wonder where and how we will develop those skills. We challenge our current methods as we contemplate non-linear thinking, breaking the dichotomy between thinking and doing, community leadership of evaluation, and real-time learning. We believe that democratic accountability for the SDGs is ongoing, and evaluation must be a key strategy to ensure it.

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