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Source: Small Island Developing States

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the EVALSDGs network, Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have released a guide to designing SDG evaluation frameworks around existing national contexts. The authors apply their proposed process to the national contexts of Costa Rica, Finland, and Nigeria to illustrate ways to incorporate SDG evaluation throughout the policy planning cycle.

Launched in New York, US on 4 February 2020, the guide titled, ‘Evaluation to Connect National Priorities with the SDGs,’ argues that a “one-size-fits-all manual” cannot be successful in evaluating success on the SDGs at the national level. The publication reports that a common thread from input provided by 33 government representatives and evaluation specialists from 22 countries is that, if evaluation is to assist in aligning national policy with the 2030 Agenda, it must be bespoke, built around existing political and assessment systems.

SDG evaluation can only make a difference if it is integrated into what countries are already doing.  The guide thus outlines four steps of evaluation development and design. They include:

  • Identify the overall objective and use of the evaluation, by consulting and engaging with different stakeholder groups (e.g. civil society organizations, parliamentarians);
  • Prepare for the evaluation by designing participatory processes, defining the scope and focus of the evaluation, and identifying the policies and plans to be evaluated;
  • Use 2030 Agenda principles (e.g. universality, equity, leave no one behind) to inform the evaluative criteria, and use the principles to develop the evaluation questions; and
  • Frame the evaluation according to the logic of national policies, develop and cost a communication plan.

SDG evaluation can only make a difference if it is integrated into what countries are already doing. 

The guide offers indicative questions, suggested criteria and decision trees to help practitioners develop robust SDG evaluation plans tailored to their national contexts. Lessons from case studies in Costa Rica, Finland and Nigeria are applied to each of the above steps, demonstrating how the SDG evaluation can be integrated throughout the policy cycle.

The guide also highlights the ways in which SDG monitoring and evaluation (M&E) processes and results can support national progress on sustainable development, and be integrated into national M&E systems. Early national experiences show that governments can use evaluative tools in: identifying issues that affect sustainable development trajectories and for formulating and adopting policies around those issues; establishing responsibilities to coordinate actions and allocate resources during policy implementation; and assessing the policies’ worth in the context of the SDGs and national priorities, to support optimal outcomes in line with key principles.

The guide also highlights methodological considerations to take into account when developing an SDG evaluation. Attributes of sustainable development evaluation include: robust stakeholder engagement—which should occur throughout the four steps—and co-generation of recommendations; mixed approaches to gathering evidence, including both quantitative and qualitative sources; integrative analysis, which reviews policies or programs from economic, social and environmental perspectives; assessing sustainable development interventions in current their spatial, temporal, socioeconomic and environmental contexts; and recognizing both upstream drivers and downstream effects, as well as impacts beyond national boundaries and across borders.

Acknowledging that there is no single way to monitor and evaluate progress against the Goals, and flagging disparities between countries in terms of their evaluation infrastructure and readiness, the authors emphasize that SDG evaluation can only make a difference if it is integrated into what countries are already doing. The SDGs are not meant to impose an additional layer of policies on top of current ones, but rather to serve as “a compass for aligning countries’ plans with their global commitments.”

The guide also outlines how SDG evaluation can inform countries’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented during the annual sessions of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

The publication was inspired by a workshop on ‘Evaluation to Connect National Priorities with the SDGs’, which convened in Helsinki, Finland, in March 2019 to foster cross-country learning and understanding on common challenges. [Publication: Evaluation to Connect National Priorities with the SDGs] [IIED Press Release 4 February]

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