Reflection on the National Evaluation Policy Development Workshop hosted by Twende Mbele – Elizabeth M. Asiimwe
Institutionalising evaluations among African Countries: what do we learn from each other?
“Since the early 1990s, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) has seen a steep climb within Africa, in terms of practice, profession and academic study. As a field of practice, specialized departments housing the practitioners now exist and the demand for evaluation of policies, projects, programmes and interventions remains on the increase. Legal and institutional frameworks for the practices of M&E are still weak”. Basheka and Byamugisha 2015
CLEAR – AA, through the Twende Mbele project, is spearheading efforts to support African countries to overcome the challenge put across by Basheka and Byamugisha through strengthening partner countries’ evaluation capacity. Mainly done through peer learning, the project organises fora where different countries meet, present their experiences and seek support from their peers. One such event was held on the 23rd October 2017, at the University of Witwatersrand, School of Governance in Johannesburg. The purpose of the workshop was to provide a platform for sharing and learning to further countries’ plans/activities fo
r development and approval of a National Evaluation Policy.
In attendance was a host of countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, Uganda, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho, Senegal, Benin and South Africa. As ‘first generation countries’ (or the countries that have made some advances in institutionalising the evaluation function), Benin, South Africa and Uganda led the deliberations by presenting the process of their National Evaluation Policy development.
What do we learn from each other?
Benin: In a bid to improve government performance, Benin in 2007 started a process of evaluating public programmes. The mandate for evaluation was placed under the Bureau of Public Policies Evaluation and Government Action Analysis in the General Secretariat of Presidency. This body’s core mandate is to lead the evaluation function to facilitate commissioning of all government evaluations and it is the one that selects evaluations to be conducted in the Country but in consultation with a range of stakeholders. The process of institutionalising the evaluation function in the country led to the adoption of an evaluation policy and to-date, every line ministry has an M&E system that links to the Ministry of Planning. Benin reported that they had conducted up to 15 evaluations by October 2017. They however, noted that they had technical capacity challenges, which they were working on through training people in evaluations with about 200 staff from local, regional and central levels having benefited and popularizing evaluation through bi-annual evaluation days since 2010.
South Africa: Established in 2011, the Evaluation and Research unit in the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation was given the mandate to establish and operationalise evaluations. By close of the year, the unit had a great achievement of a cabinet approved National Evaluation Policy Framework, which was later operationalised by provincial and departmental evaluation plans. The department had their maiden evaluations conducted in 2011/12, and by 2016/17 they had already accomplished 55 evaluations. Since 2016, evaluation findings have been used to inform planning and budgeting in the country. Achievements aside, like Benin and Uganda, South Africa still grapples with technical capacity to move the evaluation agenda. The country is tackling it through training personnel in evaluation; this far, over 1000 government personnel have been trained. Additionally, the NEP has been included in a recent evaluation of the National Evaluation System (NES) as the backbone of the Theory of Change of the whole NES, and the link to the National Development Plan.
Uganda: Like its counterparts Benin and South Africa, Uganda’s national appetite for evaluations started with the intention of strengthening performance in the public sector. In 2005, a National Integrated Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy was established but, until 2010, the system mainly focused on monitoring rather than evaluation. Moreover, evaluation of public programmes and policies was not standard practice across the public sector. To perk up the evaluation function, a Government Evaluation Facility was established in the Office of the Prime Minister in 2013 and by the close of the year, this facility had successfully completed an evaluation policy approved by Cabinet. Since 2013, Uganda has embarked on evaluating public investments, with Cabinet approving evaluation plans on a 2-3-year basis. So far 16 evaluations have been successfully conducted. As the evaluation culture strengthens and there is increased appreciation of evaluation, the national treasury has continued to increase funding for public policy and investment evaluations. This said however, the funding has not reached the desired levels and the country still struggles with evaluation capacity since most of the personnel in the GEF are either economists or statisticians with limited evaluation training and experience.
Overall, a number of cross cutting factors were mentioned as having favoured the establishment and eventual institutionalisation of the evaluation function in the three countries. High on the list was the support of the highest political offices in the countries as the evaluation utility is housed in the Offices of the Presidency or Prime Minister, with a lot of political will and support. The approval of policy frameworks by the Cabinet in the three countries provided more legitimacy but also, the importance of committed staff and national champions. Every one of these countries underscored the value of peer-support and learning along the way.
As an ardent student and observer, I witnessed the power of peer learning when every country present, sat in reflection of their next steps while some literally paired with the ‘first generation’ countries to take a deeper understanding of the processes. The fire of evaluation is on the rise in Africa, the legal and institutional frameworks are being strengthened. This highlights a positive future for evaluation on the continent.