Evaluations promote accountability

Former NIRAS Indevelop colleague Sarah Gharbi blogs about they way evaluations can promote accountability.

One of Indevelop's core services is evaluations, and we are continuously developing our evaluation approaches from emerging experiences and lessons learned. There is an increasing awareness that evaluations can not only promote accountability to donor agencies and to tax payers, but crucially also to the people whose lives are meant to be improved through international development cooperation. In other words, actors in the international development cooperation sector are increasingly required to be answerable to supported communities for the actions they undertake there. Evaluations can be an important tool to that effect. But, as noted by Chris Roche in the anthology "The politics of Evidence and Results in International Development - Playing the Game to Change the Rules?" (Practical Action Publishing 2015), there is a great challenge in balancing the promotion of a broader, and more political, definition of accountability with "growing pressures for ‘results' and value for money" in the development aid sector.

Indeed, let us not forget that accountability to aid recipients involves a power shift between donors and recipients. There is undeniably a power dimension in promoting accountability to aid recipients, a dimension which entails a constant need for understanding and analysing the power relations between aid agencies (duty-bearers) and aid recipients (rights-holders). After all, it is about ensuring that communities (with less power) have the power to hold aid agencies (with more power) to account for their actions. Therefore accountability means handing over some of that power for aid agencies, an inherently political process, requiring them to open themselves up to receiving feedback, to sharing information and, importantly, to enable participation. At the end of the day, accountability should empower aid recipients to influence the work being undertaken in their communities.

As mentioned, participation is a key principle in promoting accountability. Ideally participation should be built into the whole programme cycle, from planning and implementation, to monitoring and evaluation. To promote accountability in evaluations, a participatory approach can be used in developing the terms of reference, designing the evaluation, developing the methodology, collecting data and developing recommendations. For evaluation teams, ensuring participation can mean developing tools for identifying informants which belong to the most vulnerable groups in society and involving them in the evaluation process through appropriate and innovative methods. It can also mean disseminating the report and its conclusions in an easily accessible and inclusive manner.

In order to contribute to more transparent development cooperation, accountability, participation and non-discrimination are key principles when undertaking evaluations.