Benin Evaluation days is a biennial M&E event and the 2023 6th edition took place from the 4th to 6th October at Golden Tulip Hotel le Diplomate in Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin. The edition brought together 250 participants from various backgrounds, both national and international evaluation, including government officials, practitioners, researchers, specialists, evaluation professionals from public administration, academia, civil society organizations and NGOs which included, Twende Mbele, UNDP, UNICEF, CLEAR-FA, PEP, JPAL, UNFPA and 3ie.
The edition centred on the theme “Digital technology for strengthening national evaluation systems”.
This facilitated discussions around the successes in bridging the digital divide and promoting inclusivity through advancement of an evaluative culture. This includes increasing access to evaluation processes by the vulnerable populations, in addition to fostering their participation in the digital sphere to participate policy decisions and necessary resource allocation with a view to scaling up the performance and impact of development policies, programmes and projects.
A key focus of deliberations was the digital evolution in Africa and the world at large, which is experiencing unprecedented acceleration, with proliferation of massive data on one hand along with the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) on the other. This meant that the originality of this theme was not its questioning of the use of digital technology for evaluation but rather the debate on the link between “digitalization” and “national evaluation systems”. It further meant that there was a systemic posture in the analysis of the relationship between digital technologies and evaluation planning, undertaking and dissemination.
I concluded that this requires a differently trained monitoring and evaluation practitioner in the eThekwini Municipality. Programs for capacity building that teach M&E practitioners how to use technology are important and necessary. Additionally, eThekwini Municipality needs to have a policy position on the use of ChatGPT and the ethics thereof. A Strathub which is the integrated data source for eThekwini Municipality, must function immediately to allow M&E to start analysing data to inform decision making. Therefore, the integration of digital technology into a national or municipal evaluation system requires a strategic approach. At an organization level, there needs to be policy positions for the adoption or customization of different technologies for M&E use. At a Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Unit level, there needs to be capacity building initiatives for M&E practitioners on the use of technology geared towards real-time data gathering and analysis. Furthermore, at a personal practitioner level, there must be a willingness to change towards more productive use of technology.
The three-day event also facilitated identification of priority areas in evaluations that required further attention and resources, to ensure sustainability and effectiveness of evaluated programs and projects. Moreover, particular attention was paid to the role of evaluation in promoting gender equality and social inclusion.
Participants were also engaged in a series of plenary sessions and panel discussions focusing on a wide range of topics related to evaluations and experiences, learning from best practices, and discussion of innovative solutions to the challenges faced in evaluations in the African contexts.
Panel discussions included;
- Panel 0: Role of Technical and Financial Partners (PTF) in promoting the evaluative culture in Benin and Africa.
- Panel 1: Digital technology for the promotion of evaluative culture.
- Panel 2: The use of evidence in decision-making processes.
- Panel 3: Demand-driven research for public policy development: challenges and opportunities.
- Panel 4: How can digital technology contribute to the promotion of impact evaluation in Africa?
- Panel 5: The professionalization of evaluation in the digital age.
- Panel 6: Around the JBE café: Summary of priorities, challenges and solutions.
The event provided an excellent avenue for the Ugandan delegates from the Office of the Prime Minister, Directorate of Monitoring, Evaluation and Inspection to network with their counterparts from South Africa, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo, France, Spain and Canada.
Ugandan National Evaluation system stood to gain several benefits in terms of;
- Valuable cross-learning as the country showcased its progress in use of evidence in decision making in a presentation by Ms. Florence Mbabazi in the 2nd panel discussion. The presentation provided a platform for growth and advancement in the field of evaluations and giving a rise to a comparative analysis of the Beninese and Ugandan context in issues related to use of data for decision making from the perspective of Executive institutions and parliament respectively. It also highlighted the levers to be activated in favour of the use of monitoring-evaluation data in both planning and budgeting cycles.
- Unique opportunity for Uganda to enhance and strengthen its M&E systems and practices through the feedback while it presented its success stories, innovative approaches, and challenges faced in the evaluation system. This led to improved understanding and appreciation of the role of using evaluations in evidence-based decision making for informed choices based on evidence, leading to more effective and efficient interventions, and ultimately, better development outcomes for individuals and the population.
The outcomes of the Evaluation days were not limited to the event itself but to;
- Findings directed towards helping policymakers to identify priority areas for investment and designing effective policies and programs that address the needs of the population and evaluation community.
- Establishment of data warehouses of research knowledge, products and grey literature.
- Establishment of a support fund for the evaluation of public policies.
- Equipping the existing data centers with Artificial Intelligence services (machine learning services, inference, big data software and data lakes) to facilitate the evaluation of public policies.
- Advocating for enhanced use of digital technology for preparation and execution of evaluation ventures (recording, assignment to groups)
In conclusion the 6th edition of the Beninese Evaluation Days provided a platform for the government of Benin to showcase and highlight its achievements in implementing evidence-based policies, programs and projects in addition to serving as an opportunity to receiving feedback and recommendations from evaluation experts and stakeholders which included delegates from Uganda sharing evaluation knowledge emanating from that country.