Giving Compass' Take:

•  Karuna Krishnaswamy, writing for India Development Review, discusses the effectiveness of evaluations and how funders can strengthen the purpose of assessments through investing in research and design. 

• How can donors and organizations work together to build a more useful evaluation system?

• Read about how evaluation supports systems change. 

Development programmes are difficult to run, and can fail for a number of reasons, including flawed policy or programme design, poor implementation, under-investment, and want of political will. Sometimes, the problem itself is too hard to solve.

A lot of money is at stake when it comes to development programmes, especially in recent times as India’s GDP and tax collections have grown considerably over the years. In the 2018-19 budget, the central government alone allotted INR 2.98 lakh crore to social sector programmes. But, how do we know if a programme was successful, or, how to improve it?

Turns out, this is not easy either. Evaluations need two things: first, a programme should clearly state the outcomes it expects to improve by a certain time; and second, those outcomes must be measured accurately through specialised evaluation methods.

But do they actually serve a useful purpose?

Donors routinely commission evaluations, as do increasingly, central and state governments. There are also many research institutions such as the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) that conduct them of their own accord.

But when I asked a number of funders, implementers, and evaluation consulting agencies, none were able to say that their evaluation reports contributed substantively to important decisions.

It appears that evaluations are an institutional accountability requirement and certainly seem like the responsible thing to do especially when budget outlay is high. However, while a body of evidence may collectively shape long-term institutional strategy, individual evaluation reports do not seem to guide near-term decisions for the project stakeholders.

What is the way forward?

  • Invest in research to make the best possible design
  • Ex-post evaluations as incentives for success
  • Strengthen domestic research and evaluation capabilities

Read the full article about the purpose of donor evaluations by Karuna Krishnaswamy at India Development Review.