How impact evaluations can have the biggest (positive) impact

A road development project of the Asian Development Bank in Nepal helped connect remote villages and communities to schools, hospitals, and markets. Impact evaluations aim to determine whether or not development projects are effective as well as responsible. Photo by: ADB / CC BY-SA 

Implementing development programs is, and should be, geared toward the advancement of society and the improvement of the quality of people’s lives.

But in reality, the narrative — at times — takes a different turn.

When a development program is mired in controversy because of unintended negative consequences, it can affect the overall impact of a development program. For instance, last year in the case of a railway project in Cambodia funded by the Asian Development Bank, thousands of displaced local residents were affected by forced resettlements, insufficient compensation and neglect of their human rights.

This and other issues underscored the need for multilateral development banks to have their own independent impact evaluation departments to monitor whether development projects are not only effective, but also responsible. But how do you ensure that these efforts work out and achieve results?

While effects vary in different development programs and different situations, a Ugandan cabinet official explained that the key for impact evaluations to have the desired impact is to look at the heart of the matter: the people and the environment.

“Let’s all be doctors and fix the stethoscope to listen to the heart of the matter. Find the heart, then [conduct] the impact evaluation there,” Tarsis Kabwegyere, general duties minister of Uganda, said last week during a conference about impact evaluation at ADB’s headquarters in Manila attended by Devex. “Focus on what makes society move. Don’t just focus on the objectives of the donors, but also the goals of society.”

Kabwegyere added that pursuing sustainable, sensitive and mindful development to change society for the better is a “task for all of us.” MDBs and other aid institutions should listen to society’s calls and engage them in a constructive discussion before, during and after implementing development programs.

Impact evaluation brings to light a different dimension in the way development programs should be treated and implemented. While the most basic measure of growth is often through the gross domestic product and economic empowerment through purchasing power, development should not trample on identity, culture and the environment.

In recent times, MDBs have given more emphasis to their impact evaluation policies, including safeguards. The World Bank scheduled a new round of global consultations to improve their own environmental and social safeguards in July. ADB, meanwhile, is holding a series of conferences to discuss the direction of impact evaluation within its programs and to empower other sectors of society to conduct their own and hold institutions accountable.

Vinod Thomas, ADB’s director general for independent evaluation, recently shared his insights on the role of impact evaluation in development ahead of the bank’s upcoming conference on evaluation and innovation on Sept. 9-10.

“Looking forward, you also have to ask not only that the growth is high but it is distributed better and also that it is environmentally sustainable because without that, you cannot have growth continue the same way,” he said in an exclusive interview with Devex. “So evaluation needs to be more agile, more forward-looking, more dynamic and change with the times.”

Other highlights from the event will include:

1. Lessons for multilaterals on creating a culture of innovation and change for development programs and finding solutions to the problem.

2. The importance of inclusion for sustainable growth in relation to evaluation.

3. How to mix adaptation and mitigation when planning, designing and implementing development programs to lessen negative impacts.

4. How to solve governance and corruption issues as it “affects everything,” especially the effectiveness of a development program.

5. The advances and innovation on the techniques of impact evaluation.

Follow Devex for comprehensive coverage of ADB’s two-day event focused on innovation and evaluation in Manila on Sept. 9-10.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.