Last month, a side event was hosted at the UN High-Level Political Forum, entitled "Evaluation: An Effective Path towards Achievement of the 2030 Agenda." The activity included as panelists representatives of government entities from Finland, Nigeria, and Costa Rica: Sami Pirkkala, Secretary-General of the National Commission on Sustainable Development led by the Office of the Prime Minister of Finland; Bala Yusuf Yunusa, Chief Technical Advisor at the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the SDGs; and Pilar Garrido Gonzalo, Minister of National Planning and Economic Policy of Costa Rica. Other participants to the exchange included Denis Jobin, Senior Evaluation Specialist at the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef); Stefano D’Errico, Head of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning at IIED; Kassem El Saddik, a member of EvalSDGs; and Jörg Faust, Director of the German Evaluation Institute for Development Cooperation (DEval).
SDG evaluations for more sustainable policies
The aim of the event, as Prof. Jörg Faust stated, was “to show successful and practical examples of how SDG evaluations can be conducted and used for making better and more sustainable policies, thereby motivating others to initiate similar processes.”
He also emphasized the role of evaluation as a powerful tool for learning and accountability, while at the same time pointing out three major barriers that may help explain why there is a widespread lack of SDG evaluations: the absence of a political culture open to evaluation (political barrier), a fragmented context, and a dispersed evaluation architecture (institutional barrier), as well as challenges in addressing the inherent complexity of evaluation, characterized by numerous synergies, but also negative externalities (conceptual barrier). Prof. Jörg Faust added: “We need to move into a more coherent institutional architecture for the monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs; this requires investment in ECD and resources.”
The three countries represented have conducted evaluations with different perspectives and approaches to the SDGs, which have yielded many lessons learned and a clear recognition that evaluation is an invaluable means of tracking progress towards achieving the SDGs.
Evaluation of Finland’s sustainable development policy
In the case of Finland, a first evaluation of its sustainable development policy was initiated two years ago, and currently the country is planning a new evaluation. Mr. Sami Pirkkala emphasized the importance of this evaluation as its results were presented four months before the parliamentary elections and had an impact on the political parties and their understanding of the 2030 Agenda; the results of the evaluation were also used by the parties in drafting their government programs. As Mr. Pirkkala said, the current Finnish government program is now very much aligned with the 2030 Agenda and sustainable development.
Nigeria: A country-led evaluation of SDGs 3 and 4
In Nigeria, a country-led evaluation of two of the SDGs was developed, based on a rigorous process in terms of both participation and methodology. Mr. Bala Yusuf Yunusa explained that they have a dedicated office in place for monitoring the SDGs, which has allowed them to carry out a national and subnational evaluation on the subject that is used as a basis for political advocacy and the preparation of voluntary reports in compliance with the 2030 Agenda. These are carried out every two years.
Costa Rica’s thematic evaluation on biodiversity and climate change in the framework of the SDGs
Costa Rica is an example of a thematic evaluation focused on the cross-cutting issues of biodiversity and climate change in the framework of the SDGs, assessing Non-Reimbursable International Cooperation from the perspective of the recipient country. This evaluation was managed by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy through the Evaluation Unit, with technical support from the Focelac project, and financial support from the BMZ.
As Minister Pilar Garrido explained, this is the first time that an evaluation is carried out in the region by a recipient country, which reverses the traditional understanding of it being donor country-led. This puts Costa Rica at the forefront and forces the country to continue improving, innovating, and experimenting with methodologies of broader analytical complexity.
Addressing the audience on lessons learned on how to make the most of evaluation to achieve the SDGs by 2030, Ms. Garrido said that achieving the SDGs means ensuring right from the beginning that interventions are designed with the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in mind, including prospective targets (on how and to what extent they are expected to be met). And therein lies the need for more appraisals or ex-ante evaluations, to analyze and recommend actions for improved policy making based on these issues.
Other lessons learned pointed out by Ms. Garrido:
- The importance of advising institutions and actors on different levels on evaluation-related issues.
- The usefulness of promoting participatory evaluation approaches that empower beneficiaries to make decisions throughout the evaluation process, making sure their expressed needs are included.
- The need to create methodological tools to provide conceptual and procedural inputs on evaluation and incorporate the SDGs in evaluation processes.
- The importance of channeling external resources to carry out innovative evaluations, with a wider-ranging scope and methodologically more complex.
As Prof. Jörg Faust said: “We should definitely invest more in ECD both at home, in donor countries, and abroad, in partner countries. In other words, donor countries can play a significant role in strengthening national evaluation systems and promoting triangular and South-South cooperation in the area of SDG evaluation, with the ultimate goal of promoting a more legitimate and effective public sector.”
*To see the recording, click here.