Last year, 2015, was declared to be the International Year of Evaluation. This recognition, first proposed by EvalPartners and the IOCE at the Third International Conference on Evaluation Capacities in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was extended through recognition through a formal UN resolution passed in late 2014. Over 90 meetings and activities took place across the world in recognition of EvalYear. A major focus and outcome of these activities was consultation on a future global agenda for evaluation: the Global Evaluation Agenda 2016-2020, or “EvalAgenda2020”. An Executive Summary of EvalAgenda2020 is available from the Canadian Evaluation Society’s website: https://evaluationcanada.ca/txt/evalagenda2020.pdf

The full text document is available in PDF from the EvalPartners’ website at:

http://evalpartners.org/evalyear/shaping_the_2016_2020_global_evaluation_agenda

The process and results of the EvalAgenda consultations perfectly reflect the potential and challenges facing evaluation as a formal endeavour and profession moving forward. As a global community, the still-emerging evaluation profession is characterized by broad diversity in every sense: in terms of disciplinary backgrounds, methodological approaches, and even epistemologies. Its professional associations are largely volunteer-driven and only loosely formalized. This means they are often innovative and driven by people who have a genuine passion for evaluation and its potential for transformative social change. As the resulting EvalAgenda document notes, “Evaluation is not simply a value-neutral management tool. EvalPartners’ members are united by a shared commitment to promoting and supporting equitable and sustainable human development. Our alliance promotes evaluation processes and criteria grounded in values of equity, gender equality, and social justice and on shared principles of partnership, innovation, inclusivity, and human rights.” Thus, it appears to be the values and aspirations of what effective evaluation can do that unites global evaluation professionals and their associations.

The challenge is channeling these aspirations into effective action. And it is clear that EvalAgenda2020 remains, for the most part, a broad aspirational document, albeit one that contains an assortment of ideas about how these aspirations might be pursued. EvalPartners broadly calls on everyone to help implement EvalAgenda. On their website, they write:

“We ask you to decide: ‘which bite of the evaluation apple will you take?’ As an evaluator, a commissioner of evaluations, a manager, a government official, or as a leader or perhaps as a Parliamentarian, we believe you will wish to become familiar with the content of the Agenda so that you can not only use evaluation to support your work, but also work to strengthen evaluation.”

The marking of the International Year of Evaluation shows the increasing prominence of evaluation as a recognized tool for informed decision-making. In a synchronicity coordinated as much by happy coincidence as by deliberate reflection, 2015 was also the year that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were finalized, as the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In analysing the value of the MDGs in coordinating international action on priority development issues, monitoring and evaluation were widely agreed to be weak areas. The SDGs have a more explicit focus on evaluation, and EvalAgenda2020, likewise, has an explicit recognition of evaluation’s key role in helping to guide the SDGs. The SDGs, thus, provide a more concrete (if extremely ambitious) focal point for the type of social change that evaluation seeks to contribute to. Unlike the MDGs, which were targeted at ‘developing countries’ on the receiving end of Official Development Assistance (ODA), the SDGs apply to all nations, and so provide a much more encompassing lens for identifying the values and social changes to which evaluation, writ large, can aspire.

The challenge for evaluators now is to coordinate action so that evaluation really can inform and guide collective action towards the realization of the SDGs, even as the focus on the SDGs can help evaluation mature as a distinct profession. The hope of the main facilitators of the EvalAgenda process is that voluntary organizations of professional evaluators, and other interested parties, will voluntarily, and somewhat spontaneously, take up various aspects of this agenda and do their part to realize it. The expression of the agenda, thus, provides a loosely organizing narrative regarding the collective aspirations of the international evaluation profession. In aid of this, EvalPartners has recently created a number of new thematic evaluation networks focused on gender, youth, indigenous peoples, and the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The release of EvalAgenda2020 showcases both the great ambition of the evaluation community to contribute to emerging global change, and the immense work there is to do for the evaluation profession to develop itself and prove itself up to this challenge. It is an exciting time to be an evaluator!