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2007 AEC - Challenges and Opportunities of Evaluation in Fostering Development in Sub - Saharan Africa


In developing countries, evaluation is a recent but growing practice. It has emerged as a key tool for assessing and measuring outcomes and impacts in order to inform policy makers and donors about the effectiveness of projects, programs and policies. Evaluation is particularly crucial in Sub-Saharan Africa, because of the disappointing economic performances over the past decades of most countries and the mixed effects of aid. The paper critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of evaluation with respect to its main objectives, i.e. improving the effectiveness of development projects, programs and policies, producing and improving knowledge, and enhancing accountability of policy-makers and donor agencies. The paper contends that evaluations may exhibit limited effectiveness in many situations, because of different factors, such as the weak relevance of evaluation findings, weaknesses in implementing lessons learnt and recommendations when they are relevant, problematic methods used to gather evidence, and issues regarding the access to relevant information. It argues that the objectives of evaluation are constrained by political economy processes, some of them being embedded in aid practices. These processes generate paradoxes regarding the credibility and effectiveness of evaluation: evaluations that are driven by donors and policy-makers may be well-informed and relevant to them, but may be less credible, as they may reflect their interests, which may not be congruent with those of the beneficiaries. Symmetrically, evaluations that are conducted by independent agencies may be more credible in terms of accuracy and conceptual depth: however, they may exhibit information failures, be irrelevant to donors’ and policy-makers’ interests and be powerless and ineffective in implementing changes in policies. These constraints on evaluation are examined via an analytical framework relying on the economic theories that have long analyzed the concepts of credibility and independence. Despite these limitations, evaluation is still a useful tool, especially when it appropriately and rigorously documents facts. Evaluation results may be useful, but not necessarily for their intended objectives: in particular, they may contribute to the development of democratic institutions. Evaluation effectiveness can be improved, in particular in relying and enhancing local capacities.

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