German Institute for Development Evaluation
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What is evaluation of development cooperation?

Evaluation means describing, analysing and assessing. What we mean by "development evaluation" is the evaluation of projects, programmes or policy measures in the field of international cooperation. We ask: How good is the planning of these interventions, how good is their roll-out in practice, and how good are their results? This evaluation should always be systematic and objective and can relate to both ongoing and completed measures.

Put in everyday terms, we can say that evaluation poses two general questions: "What use is development assistance?" And: "Is German taxpayers' money being spent well?"

When examining the effective use of funds allocated from the federal budget, DEval aims to improve German development cooperation by learning from the systematic analysis of experience. We are interested above all in:

  • Relevance (Are we doing the right things?)
  • Effectiveness of interventions (Are we achieving the goals?)
  • Efficiency (Is the cost of achieving these goals economically justifiable?)
  • Wider impacts (Are we improving the bigger development picture?)
  • Sustainability (Will the impacts be of lasting benefit?)

Measuring efficiency entails weighing up the costs and benefits and is often particularly difficult. In tackling this aspect of development evaluation, we follow the recommendations of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD in Paris. For those interested in the main concepts in this field, we recommend the OECD's glossary of key terms.

Why do we need to evaluate development cooperation?

Development evaluation provides a systematic review of experiences in international cooperation to produce knowledge that can be exploited for individual and institutional learning. For the very complex policy field of development cooperation, this represents a key task and major challenge.

Another task of evaluation concerns accountability. Only if we know what works, and how and why it works, can we actively design and manage cooperation on the basis of verified findings, so that decisions can be properly justified to German tax payers, on the one hand, and to the recipients of support in our partner countries, on the other.

What are the tasks of the evaluation institute?

The first pillar of our work is the acquisition of knowledge. By conducting evaluations and, in particular, impact analyses of German development cooperation, we are able to find out more about what works and how and why it works.

The second pillar is the provision of knowledge and tools available. To research what works, we need suitable tools and trained users. This is why we are engaged in efforts to progress methods and standards, to process, present and disseminate evaluation findings, to run training programmes and to enter into national and international cooperation.

The third pillar in our work is the dissemination of knowledge and skills. We want to help build institutions in partner countries engaged in development cooperation with Germany, so that our partners will have more capacity of their own for high-quality analysis of their projects and programmes.

So weren't German development organisations evaluating their own performance before DEval came along?

Of course they were. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), along with virtually every governmental and non-governmental organisation, has long been carrying out performance reviews and evaluations. Indeed, the ministry has had its own central evaluation programme. The ministry and the implementing organisations conduct examinations either with their own staff (for internal evaluations) or by bringing in outside consultants (for external evaluations). GIZ and KfW Entwicklungsbank have dedicated departments to perform this function. Nevertheless, DEval will have at its disposal significantly more permanent staff with the right expertise for this task and can guarantee independence (from the ministry or the implementing organisations) in the way it conducts evaluations.

What is monitoring? What is evaluation? Does DEval do both?

We often refer in the same breath to monitoring and evaluation (M & E) when we are interested in the impact of development assistance. So what is the difference? Put simply, monitoring is the ongoing systematic collection of data on inputs, processes, outputs and, ideally, outcomes of development interventions. Evaluation focuses on ascertaining, analysing and assessing results at selected points in time in relation to a project or programme cycle: in advance / when planning a new intervention (ex ante evaluations); mid-way /in the course of ongoing activities (formative/real time evaluations); on completion or termination (final evaluations) or some time after completion (ex post evaluations). Impact assessments seek to determine direct links between the observed impacts and measures. Since good monitoring systems are usually the prerequisite for meaningful evaluation findings, DEval also plans to help create or upgrade monitoring systems in cases which fall within our remit, assuming we have sufficient capacity in terms of human resources. Given this relationship between monitoring and evaluation, evaluations generally flag up ways in which monitoring cold be improved.

Does the institute perform an audit on the use of taxpayers' money?

No, it doesn't. The auditing of the use of public funds in the form of an examination of the accounts of development organisations is not one of the institute's functions. We do not check on whether funding from the German government has been properly used and accounted for in recipient countries, or whether the funds may have been misused or even embezzled. This is the duty of internal and independent auditors as well as courts of auditors. We check on the quality of development programmes, their results and impacts. Our work also sheds light on the use of taxpayers' money, but at a different level of enquiry.

So isn't DEval interested in corruption?

Whenever signs of financial irregularities turn up during an evaluation, we must identify the problem and pass on the relevant information to the competent authority. And this is by no means unusual in evaluations, especially if they are concerned with measuring efficiency and thus establishing the costs and benefits, or if a whistle-blower passes on inside information to the evaluators. Another way in which we help to combat corruption is by ensuring the incorruptibility of evaluators. In fact, we're currently preparing an in-house integrity concept for this purpose.

Why do you tend to talk about evaluating development cooperation rather than development aid or development assistance?

In the language of policy-making and administration, "development cooperation" came to replace the term "development assistance" or "development aid" many years ago, although the latter is still more common in general usage. This change reflects a stronger emphasis on cooperation between equal – even if not equally strong – partners in the "North" and "South" and an acknowledgement of the key role played by our partners' inputs to interventions. Indeed, genuine development cooperation is designed to reduce dependency on pure aid. That is something we examine in our evaluations, and it falls under the heading of "sustainability". On the other hand, in the language of international discussions among experts, the use of the terms (development) aid, (development) assistance and (development) cooperation tend to be largely synonymous when it comes to talking about the overall policy field or the activities of external development advisors and development funders. Yet even private aid organisations from Germany do not only carry out emergency and disaster relief work but also perform development cooperation activities in its proper meaning.

However, for DEval's work, there is another conceptual shift of critical importance that has emerged in recent international discussions: the switch from "aid effectiveness" to "development effectiveness". What does this mean? The latter term essentially describes how development in countries in the so-called "Third World" depend less and less on "development aid" in the narrow sense and more and more on a range of other inputs: from the private sector, from ministries in other donor countries, from international private charities, from remittances sent home by migrants and, not least, from the recipient countries' own efforts. So it is vital that development evaluations increasingly take account of the interactions between an array of actors and funding sources. Our institute must take account of this complexity and diversity, while focusing, of course, on the part played by German bilateral development cooperation under the auspices of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).