The criteria are a cornerstone of evaluation practice, encouraging analysis of effectiveness and results (instead of only input and activities). They act as broad guides to help us think about and explain changes occurring because of an intervention.
Though originally developed for evaluation international co-operation activities, the criteria are widely used by many organisations and actors. They are currently reflected in policies, manuals and in the terms of reference in a wide range of individual evaluations by development ministries, agencies, banks, partners, NGOs, etc. They consequently have a strong influence on current evaluation practice.
Why adapt them?
The DAC Network on Development Evaluation started a process to adapt the DAC Evaluation Criteria in light of changes in the development landscape and the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and Paris Climate Agreement. Also, based on experience with implementation and on the request of the OECD DAC in its High Level Communiqué of October 2017.
The Network’s overall goal – in line with its mission – is to support better evaluation, which will in turn play a role in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Retaining conceptual clarity and keeping the definitions as simple as possible
Better responding to equity, gender equality and the leave no one behind imperative
One major new criterion: Coherence – to better capture synergies, linkages, partnership dynamics, and complexity.
The adapted criteria have been drawn to reflect the integrated nature of sustainable and current policy priorities and are useful for evaluating interventions aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as set out in Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement. The criteria are high-level enough to ensure they will be widely applicable, and will remain relevant as policy priorities and goals change.
To support the use of the adapted criteria further sections on the intended purpose, guiding principles for use, and an accompany guidance to explain further the criteria and how they apply to different types and contexts are provided.
Addressing confusion and misuse with an introduction on the intended purpose of the criteria; guiding principles for use; and an accompanying guidance (forthcoming).
Promoting a more interconnected approach to the criteria, including examination of synergies and trade-offs.
Ensuring applicability across diverse interventions (beyond projects) and beyond development co-operation.
Supporting use by a variety of actors (beyond evaluation)
What was the process?
The DAC Network on Development Evaluation carried out a round of consultation from March to October 2018 that included:
Interviews with key stakeholders;
A consultation workshop (March 2018);
Discussions at international meetings/seminars in Asia, Africa and Europe;
Discussions within meetings of our sister networks UNEG and ECG;
OECD DAC Network member survey; and
Public survey with stakeholders (691 responses).
On the basis of initial draft revisions, discussions continued into 2019, with input from evaluation experts, partners and members.
What did we find?
While there was broad agreement on the strengths of the criteria (their simplicity, clarity and broad applicability were especially appreciated), respondents also saw room for improvement and clarification. Many perceived challenges that were raised have to do with how the criteria are applied, more so than with the criteria themselves. Some typical quotes:
‘The criteria are useful; the problem resides in the way the criteria have been used.’ ‘One cannot blame the tools when they are misused.’ ‘The main problem with the criteria is when people treat them as a checklist…. If they are approached in humility as a preliminary guide about what constitutes worth and merit, then they work fine.’
Building on these learnings, the Network decided to:
Draft updated definitions for the original criteria and further sections on intended purpose and use;
Develop a guidance on how to use the criteria;
Explore what other steps are needed (beyond adaptation of the criteria) to support better evaluation in today’s context.
We are now working to roll out the new definitions and principles for use, and working intensively to finish the guidance. The guidance will help address many of the challenges of using the criteria, providing examples and tips for specific types of evaluation. The DAC Network on Development Evaluation (EvalNet) members and OECD Secretariat are working to communicate about the criteria, and build capacities. We view the criteria adaptation as an important opportunity to raise awareness about evaluation and encourage thoughtful discussions within institutions about learning and accountability.
A 2nd Edition of the Glossary of Key Terms in Evaluation and Results Based Management will be published shortly. We are also developing an online learning portal to support use of the criteria, and other norms and standards.
This work is ongoing, in close collaboration with our members and external partners. Join the discussion on Twitter and sign-up to our newsletter. For further questions you can contact us at DACEvaluation.firstname.lastname@example.org.