We consider that evaluation can play a useful role in terms of guiding managers and other decision makers when it comes to reviewing past performance or preparing new initiatives. Addressing the established evaluation criteria of relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability, an evaluation is a pre-eminently rational tool.
However, for an evaluation to be truly meaningful it also needs to be ‘modest’ and ‘open-minded’.
Modesty implies that an evaluation refrains from reducing outcomes to mere numbers.
Evaluators increasingly limit their efforts to quantification, checking the achievement of quantified results against set targets in logical framework matrixes.
We consider that this confuses evaluation with audit, and fails to grasp the often rather qualitative nature of evaluation outcomes. Moreover, whilst popular with many donors, it deflects attention from the actual achievement of objectives, and builds defensive barriers within the minds of programme managers and beneficiaries (often exacerbated by weak evaluation culture or limited evaluation experience).
This leads us to open-mindedness. The evaluator needs to familiarise himself with the evaluation context to be able to grasp and explain qualitative outcomes. This can be a demanding task within the generally short evaluation timeframes, however, we have made good experiences in overcoming this constraint by emphasising stakeholder consultations on the ground, conducting interviews with different parties affected by an evaluation, and supplementing this with surveys to larger groups of stakeholders.