It is unfortunate that Evaluation is often perceived as a fault-finding exercise. Not many people find comfort in a false notion that their actions are under regular scrutiny, and there is the prospect of the sword of Damocles hovering over their heads. In fact, the objective of Evaluation is not to point fingers, but it is about asking relevant questions and finding information that answers those questions, Secretary to the President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga said.
"Evaluation is about remaining open to continuing feedback and making adjustments accordingly. This is very true for Performance Evaluation of individuals as well, " the Secretary said addressing "Evaluation for Change", International Conference at Mount Lavinia Hotel this morning.
Held for the fourth consecutive year, this biannual conference is jointly hosted by Sri Lanka Evaluation Association and Department of Project Management and Monitoring of the Ministry of Finance and Planning in partnership with UNICEF.
Full text of speech:
Dr Colin Kirk, Director, Office of Evaluation at UNICEF, New York
Mr Reza Hossaini, Country Resident Representative, UNICEF, Sri Lanka
Mrs Dharshana Senanayake, Director General, Department of Project Management and Monitoring
Prof. Nilanthi Bandara, President, Sri Lanka Evaluation Association
Delegates from overseas and Sri Lanka and Friends
Let me first of all wish you a very pleasant morning.
I am going to start my address this morning by taking you back several years into your past, in fact, your childhood. I am fairly certain that almost all of us here - as children - have enjoyed that fantastic book, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, or at least have read it to our children.
Now you might wonder what profound thought on Evaluation that I hope to express to you from quoting a book that is a classic example of the literary nonsense genre !
Consider this illustration of an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Carroll’s book: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there !”
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Doesn't that make a hell of a lot of sense, where all of us are concerned?
Let me also quote from the actual exchange written by Carroll, which is quite interesting and thought provoking as well.
Alice asks the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where -–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“………… So long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Hence, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” How many of us go through life, in wilderness, without a clear and meaningful destination at the end? The famous author and management and personality development trainer, Dr Stephen Covey in presenting the seminal works, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, illustrated the same point, with the Habit 2, Begin with the end in Mind.
Put in another way: How many of us undertake tasks with a clearly formed Outcome in the end? And how many of us care to find out whether the Outcome we finally end up with, is in fact the Outcome that we desired to achieve in the first place? Remember, you may still achieve your objective, but fail in achieving a desirable Outcome, because Outcomes are the intended or unintended consequences of an objective.
How many of us focus on the best route to reach the Outcome? How many of us anticipate obstacles that may be encountered on the way and produce measures to mitigate them? How many of us reflect on our personal and professional journeys for lessons learnt? A little bit of dreaming of the intended outcome has always been useful for most people.
How can we expect to know the answers when we don’t know what the questions are?
My purpose in reminding you of this wonderful children’s classic and quoting from a seemingly nonsensical exchange is to explain in the simplest terms possible why the holding of this International Conference is so important today. Hence, my congratulations at the outset to the Sri Lanka Evaluation Association for taking the leadership together with the Department of Project Management and Monitoring in hosting, what I strongly believe, another successful international forum for sharing and fostering new knowledge and competencies from the field of evaluation. My congratulations to all the delegates as well, for deciding to attend this important conference, and a very special welcome to our guests from overseas - to whom I urge to travel around this beautiful island of ours and evaluate for yourself the wonder of it !
This morning on the eve of your pursuit for new knowledge and experiences, I wish to share with you briefly my own thoughts on three aspects relevant to Evaluation.
One is the increasing tendency for national governments to embrace Monitoring and Evaluation as a function of their administrative machinery.
Second is some view points on capacity building for Evaluation
The Third and an important aspect is the role and impact of Champions of Evaluation
So what makes governments more and more prone to adopt Monitoring and Evaluations systems since recent times?
A little historical evidence may be useful here. Since the time when ancient Egyptians made a regular practice of monitoring their national output on grain and livestock 5000 years ago, or when the Chinese conducted civil service proficiency measurement examinations to test suitability of applicants to government positions in 2000 BC, or when Socrates adopted his method of examining one’s own beliefs and evaluating their worth as part of the learning process, the modern discipline of Evaluation has followed an evolutionary process, adapting its approaches to suit both times of stability and turbulence.
Changes in development prompt governments to change how they respond effectively in new situations. A key benefit in sound Evaluation systems is that they enable governments to assess impacts of their response and provide feedback. OECD countries which were the first to develop evaluation cultures did so in response to various external and internal pressures. For instance, Germany, The Netherlands and France developed an evaluation culture in response to both these pressures, while Australia, Canada, Korea and USA were motivated largely by strong internal pressures.
Let’s be realistic. Strong M&E systems are fundamentally related to political and power systems in government. Take any country in the world, and you will find that Evaluation is more a political process than a technical one. Even countries which have the highest “evaluation culture rankings” and the most advanced Evaluation systems in the world such as Canada, Australia and the USA have evolved their systems through a political process.
That Evaluation is increasingly embraced by National Governments is a very encouraging observation. I would like to point out here that governments do recognize that there are organizational and political costs and risks associated with implementing M&E systems. However, the important fact is that they also recognize that there may be critical costs and risks in not implementing such systems.
A considerable number of governments in the African and Asian regions have initiated M&E systems in government, some at a more advanced stage than others. Uganda, the first country to benefit from the HIPC or Highly Indebted Poor Country measures is progressing in formulating their government M&E policies and programmes and recently held a National Evaluation Week. In South Africa, there is a Minister in The Presidency in charge of Performance Management and Monitoring and Administration. Several countries are formulating their own National Evaluation Policies and Strategies. We too have prepared a well received draft Sri Lanka National Evaluation Policy and Strategy document which in the near future will be presented to the Cabinet of Ministers.
The second aspect is about the need for capacity building for Evaluation
The demand for capacity building for M&E never stops as new monitoring and evaluation techniques and methodologies emerge to address complex issues such as conflict, terrorist activities, climate change, money laundering etc.
Most developing countries have benefitted from external consultancies for in-house M&E activities. It is vital, however, that Evaluation capacities are promoted within the country to sustain long term needs. Capacity in the workforce is needed to develop, support and sustain these systems. Civil servants in national governments need to be trained in project and programme management, modern data collection methods and analysis. In this context, Information Technology is a key enabler. Officials must be equipped with identifying how to collect relevant data that can provide analytical feedback to help policy makers make evidence-based decisions.
As the Evaluation field continues to grow, we now observe that there is also a call for professionalism, probably prompted by a need to maintain the quality of evaluations undertaken and to discourage sub-standard evaluations been conducted. Some of you may be aware that the Treasury Board of Canada is now in the practice of calling for certificates from Heads of Evaluation units mandated for Canadian agencies. There are also moves underway by the Canadian Evaluation Society to accredit Evaluators. We may thus soon see Monitoring and Evaluation emerging as a distinct profession.
The third aspect I wish to dwell on is about Champions and Pockets of Innovation
I came across quite an interesting finding by a group of Evaluation professionals who say that “there has been no instance where an M&E system has emerged in the public sector of a developing country without a Champion”.
This finding is important because it tips such governments, looking to strengthen their M&E systems, that investing in a few Champions will go a long way.
The need for Champions, particularly in developing country context may be partly because such countries encounter more challenges than developed countries in building and sustaining their M&E systems. Building a solid M&E system is no mean task, and there are governments which make a sincere effort to do so.
Some countries require civil service reforms or legal reforms to build successful Evaluation systems. Some lack the resources to build institutional and cadre capacity to sustain M&E systems. In any event, when Evaluation systems are introduced in an organization, it is natural to expect some little support and a lot more resistance.
It is unfortunate that Evaluation is often perceived as a fault-finding exercise. Not many people find comfort in a false notion that their actions are under regular scrutiny, and there is the prospect of the sword of Damocles hovering over their heads. In fact, the objective of Evaluation is not to point fingers, but it is about asking relevant questions and finding information that answers those questions. It is about remaining open to continuing feedback and making adjustments accordingly. This is very true for Performance Evaluation of individuals as well.
The agents for clearing such unfounded notions, getting people on board, promoting evaluation practices, and influencing decision-makers are found among the Evaluation Champions. Needless to say, the closer they are placed to the decision-making centres of power, the greater is the viability of the success and sustainability of the M&E system they are promoting.
From the view point of Champions, what is it that motivates them? For some, it may be a sense of Public Responsibility. For others, it may be a feeling of acceptance by policy makers, civil society groups, donor community and peers as a Reformer, demonstrating accountability and results.
I can easily think of a few Evaluation Champions in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Evaluation Association is one of them. They have been and continue to advocate the government, private and civil society sector for 13 years to promote an evaluation culture in the country. The team of officers in the Department of Project Management & Monitoring Department is the second example. Their teams of officers have built systems and are continuing to improve their competencies. Such foundations and motivations are crucial for developing countries to overcome barriers and challenges to introduce and sustain strong Evaluation systems.
I think I have spoken enough. Let me end my address quoting from an adapted version of Osborne & Gaebler, in Reinventing Government, on the immense Power of Measuring Results, which, I am sure will also form the basis of your deliberations over the next few days. .
It goes as:
If you do not measure results, you cannot tell success from failure.
If you cannot see success, you cannot reward it.
If you cannot reward success, you are probably rewarding failure.
If you cannot see success, you cannot learn from it.
If you cannot recognize failure, you cannot correct it.
If you can demonstrate results, you can win public support.