Harnessing Evaluations for Sustainable Development: A Call to Action

Maria Fyodorova
23 April 2024
Harnessing evaluations for sustainable development
As the world grapples with pressing environmental challenges, the importance of integrating environmental considerations into evaluation practices has never been more crucial, presenting challenges and opportunities for evaluators and policymakers alike.

Maria Fyodorova is a communications consultant at GEI.


(As part of recent events to commemorate the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group’s (IEG) 50th Anniversary, the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) hosted several conversations with experts on “Future-Proofing National Evaluation Systems.” This blog is based on one of those conversations, between Dugan Fraser, Program Manager of the Global Evaluation Initiative, and Geeta Batra, Director of the Independent Evaluation Office of the Global Environment Facility.)

Evaluations play a crucial role in helping to assess the effectiveness and impact of development initiatives and individual projects. As the world grapples with pressing environmental challenges, the importance of integrating environmental considerations into evaluation practices has never been more crucial, presenting challenges and opportunities for evaluators and policymakers alike.

There have been important advancements in evaluation methodologies.  The integration of qualitative and quantitative methods, an increase in the importance of engaging with stakeholders, beneficiaries, and the private sector, and a focus on inclusion and fieldwork, have all improved the field.  However, greater attention needs to be given to mainstreaming environmental issues within evaluation work and within national evaluation systems. Here are some suggestions on how to get there:

Include environmental impacts in all evaluations. One critical issue that should be addressed is the tendency for evaluations to overlook negative environmental impacts of interventions that otherwise achieve their objectives. Including environmental impacts in the indicators or the metrics that are used to assess effectiveness and considering unintended environmental consequences is a necessary shift in perspective for evaluators. The move from a focus on isolated project outcomes to broader environmental implications of development interventions is essential for effective policy-making and sustainable development. This perspective shift is being explored on GEI’s BetterEvaluation knowledge platform through the Footprint Evaluation Initiative, an ongoing collaborative effort to curate and co-create knowledge about methods and approaches that can be used to understand the environmental sustainability of interventions. 

Apply a systems-thinking approach. Another key shift in evaluation practice that can help mainstream environmental issues in evaluation is more use of a systems-thinking approach.  A systems-thinking approach involves understanding and analyzing complex relationships and interdependencies among various components within a system, such as environmental, social, and economic factors. It emphasizes considering the holistic context and interactions to gain insights into the impacts of interventions and inform decision-making processes effectively.

Be creative and adaptable. Evaluators have an important role in “pushing the envelope” and exploring new approaches to address complex challenges. Evaluators can often play an educational role, in addition to their usual role of ensuring accountability. This calls for creativity and adaptability and echoes the dynamic nature of environmental issues and the need for continuing agility in evaluation methodologies. Many people say that the practice of evaluation is as much an art as it is a science – and this is certainly true when trying to mainstream environmental issues and convince stakeholders of the value of doing so.

Harmonize international environmental reporting requirements. Many countries struggle with meeting the demands of various environmental reporting commitments, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals or ILO’s Chemicals Convention. In practice, these reporting processes often operate in silos within country systems and sometimes fail to channel findings into policymaking decisions.  Harmonizing reporting requirements across conventions and donors can help to reduce the burden on countries. This streamlining can not only enhance efficiency, but also promote consistency and comparability in evaluations, facilitating cross-country learning and collaboration.  The GEI Network provides an opportunity for donors to collaborate on reporting mechanisms, reducing the impact on countries and ensuring that donor M&E requirements contribute to better policymaking for the country government.

Strengthen capacity-building, collaboration and knowledge sharing. The importance of collaboration and knowledge sharing in advancing evaluation practices that mainstream environmental issues cannot be overstated. By serving as a platform for collaboration and alignment on capacity-building, partnerships like GEI play a crucial role in promoting best practices and facilitating the incorporation of environmental sustainability into M&E and national M&E systems.  Many GEI capacity-building and professional development programs train evaluation stakeholders on the pressing environmental issues of today and how to integrate that knowledge into evaluations and policymaking.

In conclusion, as the world faces increasing environmental pressures, integrating environmental considerations into evaluation practices is crucial. While evaluation approaches have continued to evolve in response to changing contexts of development, more progress is needed on mainstreaming of environmental issues in evaluations. This can be achieved by including environmental metrics in all evaluations (even when the intervention is not environmentally focused), applying a systems-thinking approach, being creative and adaptable, harmonizing international environmental reporting requirements, and strengthening capacity-building, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. By taking these steps, evaluators and policymakers can ensure that evaluations contribute to effective policy-making and sustainable development.