The Five Practices of SDG-ready Evaluation

Written by: Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas, CEO/CFO,

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.

  • Alongside the celebrations of 2015 as the International Year of Evaluation, EvalPartners sets up EvalSDG, a task force to facilitate global conversations about SDG-ready evaluation.
  • At the American Evaluation Association (AEA) Conference 2015, Dr. Michael Quinn Patton inspired us with the exciting image of Blue Marble Evaluators with the byline “Think Globally, Act Globally and Evaluate Globally.”
  • As partial response to the SDGs, Bamberger, Vaessen and Raimondo have a new book out entitled, Dealing With Complexity in Development Evaluation: a Practical Guide (Sage, 2016).
  • Zenda Ofir offered us a blog post on the SDGs and the Global Evaluation Agenda.
  • In March 2016, EvalGender+, a network established by EvalPartners, sponsored a strong call for review and follow-up mechanisms that will “leave no one behind” with the title: “No one left behind. Evaluating SDGs with an equity-focused and gender-responsive lens.” In this session, AEA representative to EvalSDGs Dr. Thomas Schwandt joined Dr. Claudia Maldonado, Director of CLEAR/LAC in a provocative presentation on the implications of complexity for SDG-ready evaluation.

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.

Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas

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As co-founder of EnCompass, Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas has led the development of responsible stewardship and strong management along with a transparent and inclusive corporate culture at EnCompass. Ms. Catsambas is an evaluation and organizational change expert with more than 30-years’ experience in evaluation, quality improvement, and innovation. Ms. Catsambas has created and implemented an appreciative model for evaluating organizational and program performance, is co-author of the first text on this topic (Reframing Evaluation Through Appreciative Inquiry, Sage Publications, June 2006), and has continued to publish on the importance of incorporating an appreciative approach to management, learning and evaluation. Ms. Catsambas was president of the American Evaluation Association in 2019, and in 2015, received the International EvalPartners Award in recognition of her leadership, creativity and exceptional contributions to the global evaluation community. She holds an MPP from Harvard University.

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