Evaluation and, more generally, Results-Based Management (RBM) are amongst the best-known instruments to strengthen accountability and learning, and, ultimately, improve policies and practices.
How are these applied by institutions concerned with agriculture, and are officials working in this sector equipped with adequate capacities and resources to carry out evaluation?
Knowledge seems to be scarce on these questions. Hence, the FAO Office of Evaluation and EvalForward started exploring the dynamics of evaluation within Ministries of Agriculture and their relations with other institutions who play a role.
While the study is ongoing, the Francophone International Forum on Evaluation - FIFE2019, held in Ouagadougou from 11 to 15 November, provided an opportunity to exchange ideas on these questions with Conference participants. In a Round Table with representatives from M&E units in Ministries of Agriculture in Cameroon, Benin and Burkina Faso, and from the AVANTI project, who presented relevant experiences, I shared some preliminary results emerging from the study as a basis for the discussion. These are presented in brief, to generate further reactions from the community.
A first finding is that evaluation is still largely led at central level, and although most countries contacted have M&E units within the Ministry of Agriculture, their roles in measuring results in the sector vary widely across countries and are often limited.
These units are most often tasked with a broad mission, covering both the planning of activities, including budgeting, and programme performance against work plans. In many cases, their evaluation mission, as final stage of the RBM cycle, is not prioritized. Evaluation calls for specific skills and investments. Yet, budgetary resources dedicated to these units are usually insufficient for a genuine investment in evaluation, and the staff made available to the M&E units of the Ministry of Agriculture are limited in number (12 staff nationwide on average) and lack appropriate training.
Evaluation is more systematic in the context of projects, when it is levied by external donors who add a budget line, and when it is a condition of future aid. Evaluation is thus rarely conducted at the level of national policies and programs, being in financial competition with programming activities, most often prioritized by policy makers looking to show tangible deliverables in their short term time span.
The pivotal influence of political ‘champions’ of evaluation is also demonstrated by the few countries where evaluation has been well developed and could be said to be institutionalized: they owe it to the support of conscious interlocutors at the highest level of the government.
Looking at the relationship between the Ministry of Agriculture and the central units responsible for evaluation in the countries, it looks like this is usually a formal reporting system rather than a collaboration between evaluators. In addition, the dynamism of the central units is a factor that strongly influences their ability to promote the evaluation culture within countries, and especially in sector ministries.
To date, three types of situations are emerging:
- Advanced countries, where national institutions sustain an evaluation function in the agricultural sector;
- The countries or M&E units of Ministries support results-based monitoring but do not practice evaluation;
- Countries where the concepts underpinning RBM do not yet seem to have penetrated institutions of the sector.
The preliminary results of the study are summarized here (in French). These initial results will have to be confirmed with the collection of more cases, with the aim to finalize the study early in 2020. Some questions remain open:
- Is there a need to internalize the evaluation function in sector-based Ministries, to ensure that the sector policies and programmes are appropriately evaluated? Or instead, should the priority be on better linking professional evaluators to these public institutions, while simply increasing the sectoral ministries’ capacities to plan evaluations and maximize their benefits? The latter would also responds to the need for evaluation to remain independent.
- Which levers may influence the emergence of evaluation champions within public institutions and which may help to ensure adequate investments in the evaluation function?
We invite members of the Community to share their perspectives around these and the broader question of institutionalization of evaluation in the agriculture sector.