International Policy Update - 10 Highlights About Evaluation and the UN's New Sustainable Development Goals
From Mike Hendricks, AEA Representative to the International Organization for Cooperation in Evaluation (IOCE), with contributions from Jim Rugh, EvalPartners Co-Coordinator
In late September, the United Nations General Assembly will almost certainly adopt 17 high-level Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that, for the next 15 years, will drive a set of coordinated global efforts toward “the world we want.” For us evaluators, the exciting news is that these SDGs have a much stronger emphasis on evaluation than did the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the SDGs are replacing. But what are these SDGs, what are the exciting opportunities for evaluators, and what are some of the challenges ahead? Here are 10 highlights every evaluator should know:
What are these SDGs?
1. Here are the 17 SDGs, and you can see that they run the gamut of the world’s problems. For example, Goal 1 aims to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere."
2. Each SDG also has a number of specific targets the world will try to achieve. An example for Goal 1 is Target 1.5: “By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social, and environmental shocks and disasters.” Overall, 169 targets have been identified for the 17 SDGs.
3. For each of these targets, one or more indicators (quantitative and/or qualitative) will be measured regularly to track progress, provide accountability to citizens, identify best practices, share lessons learned, and identify new and emerging issues. These global indicators will be complemented by additional indicators for regional and/or national levels.
4. The U.N. secretary general will prepare an annual report on the progress achieved for each of these indicators, targets, and goals.
Why are the SDGs exciting for evaluators?
5. As mentioned above, the developers of these SDGs recognize the need for a much better system of following up and reviewing progress – specifically reviews that are “rigorous and based on evidence, informed by country-led evaluations and data which is high-quality, accessible, timely, reliable, and disaggregated… .” These requirements call for our types of skills.
6. These reviews will be country led – that is, done by national governments themselves, not by multilateral organizations or outside donors – and many countries will need help to improve their evaluation capacities. AEA believes strongly in supporting strategies to increase national evaluation capacities around the globe.
What challenges do evaluators face with the SDGs?
7. Please read again item No. 2 above. What do you think of Target 1.5? Is it precise, with specifically defined groups and aims? Or does it contain seven or eight different elements, each of which might be difficult to measure?
8. Right now there are over 300 proposed indicators for the 169 targets, and a final list needs to be agreed on within the next six months (by March 2016). Do many national governmental systems have the capacity (or will) to routinely measure 300+ indicators?
9. Data and evaluation systems are very weak in some countries, with little to no baseline data and few, if any, mechanisms for gathering reliable new data.
10. Too many people involved with the SDGs know too little about evaluation, so when they envision reviews of the SDGs, they envision science or large-scale research. A great deal needs to be done to help audiences realize how much evaluation can help achieve the SDGs, not only by monitoring the specific indicators, but also by assessing what it takes to achieve the goals in various contexts.
Despite these challenges, it is very exciting that evaluation will become an integral part of the new SDG process. As you read last month, Tom Schwandt will be representing AEA in the new EvalPartners initiative called EvalSDGs, so Tom will be wrestling with many of these issues. Watch this space for his updates from time to time. You can also follow @EvalSDGs on Twitter.