2015: International Year of Evaluation

 2015 marks the designated International Year of Evaluation. Visiting Professor of Global Practice Dr. Juha  Uitto was selected as an influential leader in evaluation and interviewed as part of a project, EvalStory. Produced by EvalPartners and Universalia (a Canadian management consulting firm) the goals of the project are linked to strengthening and optimizing evaluation capacities in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which the UN General Assembly will endorse this month. The mission of EvalPartners is to advocate and promote evaluation and evidence-based policy making at international, regional, national, and local levels.

Dr. Uitto is the Director of the Independent Evaluation Office at the Global Environment Facility. He recently published Evaluating Environment in International Development (available for purchase here and related lecture here) Watch his interview here or read further for the transcript.

EvalStory Transcript

UITTO: My name is Juha Uitto and I am the Director of the Independent Evaluation Office of the Global Environment Facility based in Washington, D.C. in the United States.

Q: Over the course of your career what have been your biggest lessons learnt and what is your most memorable experience?

UITTO: We evaluators are seldom beloved or even fully appreciated by especially those whose work we are evaluating.  So one of the big challenges is getting buy in to our work.  I am a strong believer in the independence of the evaluation function but I also believe that confrontation is seldom very productive or useful to anybody.  So there's always a need to find way of engaging stakeholders early on and I think that one of the most important factors in that, what I have learned, is that you have to be very transparent as an evaluator. It means that you have to be very transparent in setting your evaluation questions and what you are evaluating, open about your approaches and methodologies and the data you use and the date you decide not to use and so forth. It's also very useful to engage stakeholders at an early stage through mechanisms such as referents groups to review papers and to get their inputs and to report on progress.  So it shouldn't be only at the beginning of the evaluation and at the very end but through out the evaluation. I recently had exactly this experience in one of the large evaluations that we've been conducting here in the GEF evaluation office where we were nearing the end of this evaluation and I called a stakeholder referents group meeting and the stakeholders came with an attitude basically saying that in the beginning of the morning that 'oh you can say that your analysis is all wrong' and so on.  But after a few hours they came around and it was clear that they had turned a corner and understood where we came from and what our analytical and data constraints were and how we were trying to triangulate from different data sources and analytical methodologies and so forth.  So it was a very positive experience and I also believe that because we did this it will be very different when we actually present the evaluation to our governing council.

Q: How do you see evaluation in the next five years? Which topics should gain most attention and why? How can concerted actions strengthen general evaluation practice? Describe key future priorities for the 2016-2020 global evaluation agenda.

UITTO: To me it's very important for evaluation to keep an eye on the big picture and to look beyond the activities and outputs of the individual projects and interventions.  We live in a rapidly changing world where there are many challenges on multiple fronts and public funding is particularly scarce these days.  So we can't afford to do business as usual. We have to be able to determine whether the interventions, the policies, the strategies, the programs, the projects whatever we are doing and evaluating whether they actually make a difference, whether they have an impact on the ground.  So it's very important that when we evaluate we keep an eye on the big picture. Now I work in the environmental arena where needless to say the challenges are huge when it comes to biodiversity loss, the loss of productive assets, soil, air and water pollution and so forth, and of course there's climate change which has thrown a curve ball into the game.  So when we evaluate we can't just look into individual projects and see whether they did what they were set out to do and produced the outputs that they were set out to produce but we will have to think about whether they were making a difference to the environment that we are trying to save.  Now the good news is that in some ways that there are now a lot of technologies that are getting much easier to use and cheaper to use which can actually help us to look into these kinds of issues.  I am talking about things like remote sensing and geographical information science which we have been starting to use in the GEF Independent Evaluation Office  when we look into especially natural resources management, biodiversity conservation, forest cover change and so forth.  So this makes it much easier for us to actually ascertain whether the projects and the programs that GEF has been funding actually make a difference on the ground.  Whether forest cover change is positively affected by these things and so forth.  Now I do want to caution though that this is not the panacea either because we are also dealing with people's lives and livelihoods and we have to understand the causalities why things are happening, what works, why, for whom and so forth.  So there is still a strong need for the more traditional evaluation approaches of actually talking to people and listening to people and doing surveys and focus groups and what have you.  So I am a very strong believer also in mixed methods.

Q: How do you think that Eval Year can improve our profession and the community of practice?

UITTO: I think that evaluation has already been strengthened  through concerted action and I am talking about action driven partially by groups such as the UN Evaluation Group, UNEG, and the evaluation cooperation group of the international financial institutions and others. But notably and very importantly by civil society by groups such as evaluation associations by groups that have been cropping up all over the world  in the past few years.  Really quite remarkably not only in the traditional places in North America and Europe but very much so in Asia, Africa, Middle East, and Latin America. And these organizations that have been called VOPEs or voluntary organizations of professional evaluation or professional evaluators have made a huge difference.   And then there are groupings such as the IOCE and our partners that have been able to bring them together so that they can advocate quite effectively for evaluation. And I think advocacy role is quite important in the sense that we don't want to preach to the converted but we want to bring to our side the people who use evaluations, the policymakers.  But also regular people all over the world who will understand that they can use and demand evaluation for accountability purposes to hold the people who are representing them and doing projects, and programs, and policies and  strategies on their behalf that they are accountable. And a couple of course very concrete examples of this are the 2014 UN General Assembly resolution on national evaluation capacity development and the fact that now in 2015 we are living the international year of evaluation.

Share this: