Happy 2015! This first blog entry falls on the first month of the International Year of Evaluation. This is a very exciting time for the international evaluation community. And it comes about, not by chance, but by design and the hard work of a dedicated network of international evaluators.

The decision to declare 2015 as the International Year of Evaluation or, more succinctly, EvalYear, is the inspiration of EvalPartners, the global movement to strengthen national evaluation capacities. It has quickly been taken up by professional evaluators’ organizations all over the globe. Already, 18 events have been planned internationally to mark EvalYear (see http://mymande.org/evalyear/evaluationtorch2015), culminating in a week-long event hosted by the Nepalese Parliament.

In recognition of EvalYear, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a widely-supported resolution titled “Capacity building for the evaluation of development activities at country level”. This resolution commits member countries to strengthening their own national evaluation capacities, and to providing a progress update in 2016 to the Secretary General.

Why has this focus on evaluation been received so broadly and so enthusiastically?

In part, this is a reflection of the growth of the evaluation community, and it’s as-yet still unrealized potential.

Many of us in the evaluation community are motivated by the great potential we see in evaluation for social change and learning. At its best, M&E can keep us honest, keep us grounded in reality, and provide a platform for collective decision-making. However, we are also frustrated by the various ways that reality falls short of its potential. To play a meaningful role, evaluation needs to be part of a broader culture of learning, questioning, and critical thought. This requires capacity not just to conduct sound and relevant evaluations, but also to use the results.

One of the most exciting things about EvalYear, and the current movement to strengthen evaluation, is its focus on the ‘enabling environment.’ In my view, that means governments with a demonstrable commitment to learning from and acting on the evidence, in a broader context of deliberative public policy. It means publics who are engaged and aware enough to play a role in shaping policy. This may seem like an ideal in a time when, in many countries, policies often seemed more driven by politics and the narrow interests of various lobby groups than by public interest. But this is exactly why evaluation is so needed at this time.

My big hope for the 2015 and beyond is that we in the evaluation community can have critical, open conversations about fostering the kinds of conditions so that evaluation can go beyond optics and technocratic processes to foment meaningful reflective social learning processes.

This is an excellent time for everyone with an interest in evaluation to reflect together on our practices and our values, and how we would like to bring them more in line with each other. Viva EvalYear!