Exchange to change February 2016 - Page 4

Having just welcomed the new year 2016, this seems like a good time to reflect on the recently ended International Year of Evaluation. As most of the DEM alumni may know, 2015 had been designated as the International Year of Evaluation in order to advocate and promote evaluation and evidence-based policy making at different levels. However, some academics have reservations with respect to the drive for evidence-based policy making. One of them is the social anthropologist Rosalind Eyben who recently co-edited the book “The Politics of Evidence and Results in International Development”. Given her extensive career in international development policy and practice we invited her to reflect on the current evaluation and evidence discourse. contribute and how we can assess the utility and quality of our contribution. It is because of the focus on attribution rather than contribution that we are stuck in this results framework. E2C: You mentioned that one of the false assumptions is that causal change is linear Rosalind Eyben on the politics of evidence and results in nature. But in international development we often use linear log frames. How do you convince people to use the alternatives? E2C: Did you participate in any activity related to the Year of Evaluation? R.: I did not participate. In fact I was highly sceptical as it seemed to be a classic case of the aid industry spending a lot of time going to lots of meetings. However, there was one enormous advantage of the initiative, namely that it was global. So, in terms of shifting the discourse it might have been significant. E2C: In your book you argue that results and evidence discourses are becoming so dominant in international development. Why is this sector different from other sectors? R.: Well I think it differs from one country to another and it is obviously not just in the international development sector. It is a much wider discourse. In domestic policy and programming you have some citizen pushback through the members of parliament or local councillors. There is some kind of democratic process at work which keeps the bureaucrats, who are designing all these results based frameworks, in touch with reality. In international development you do not have this direct citizen pushback. It is a real problem of international development aid that 4 it somehow detaches from reality like a balloon and goes somewhere else. It is this tendency to float away from the real world that has contributed to the dominance of the results and evidence discourses in the sector. E2C: You have some reservations about the push for effectiveness and efficiency. Which alternative do you propose? R.: I want an alternative understanding of how change happens and how development aid can support change. The whole results agenda is premised on a certain view of linear change. I argue that historical change is not linear, but complex, messy, and full of surprises. Yet the whole results framework is linked to the idea of attribution, not contribution. Donors want to demonstrate that thanks to their millions of euros, x, y and z are achieved, ignoring the fact that there is a multitude of actors and processes at work which contributed to change, or equally contributed to no change. Attribution is a completely fallacious perspective on how donors are – or are not – supporting the development change that they want to achieve. There is an anxiety to demonstrate attribution rather than to engage in a planning and evaluation process which is about how we can most usefully R.: So, that is what this Big Push Forward initiative is all about. I don’t want to go into a conversation about methodologies, even though that is the trap that usually happens. People tend to ask about the alternatives. We know that there is no shortage of alternatives, but it somehow seems easier for people to get back into that methodological conversation than to face the political challenge. I have been trying to get people to talk about the political challenges in using these alternatives. Let’s talk about the actual use of these methodologies and the reasons why they are not being used. Yet, there is no magic bullet to get people to think differently, especially because we all suffer from cognitive dissonance. For instance, when I was talking before the House of Commons about how messy and unexpected policy making processes can be in the UK they agreed with me. However, when I argued that there is no reason to think that when you support an education policy in Uganda the process would be linear, they stopped listening. The point was not even mentioned in the report of the meeting. This is what I call cognitive dissonance. E2C: What is your advice to our former students and current policy makers on how to deal with evidence in their decision making processes? R.: People do not base decisions on evidence anyhow. That is of course the final irony of the whole process. Evidence is extremely useful to