The International Center for Evaluation and Development (ICED) fills an important gap in the global evaluation architecture. It is the first Africa-based international think-tank that combines research and innovation with extensive practical experience in evaluation for development in the Africa.
The time is right for such a venture.
With its operating headquarters in Kenya, and with office in Accra, Ghana, and a range of emerging international alliances and partnerships, ICED is poised to use and enhance the value of evaluation to contribute to development outcomes and impacts that address the opportunities of today and the future. It focuses specifically on the Global South, with Africa as a significant priority.
If its remarkable potential is properly used, evaluation is a powerful instrument in the hand of governments and citizens. It uses research as well as critical and evaluative thinking and methods to assess and understand the merit, worth and value of what is being done and achieved; how and why it is working and impacting (or not) over time; and for whom, from whose perspective, at what cost and under what circumstances.
It can be used to inform the design of any intervention from local to global level, its implementation at any stage of its lifetime, and the difference it has made - even years after the intervention has ended. All of this is done to hold responsible people accountable, build new knowledge, and inform and improve ongoing and new plans, budgets and actions.
Why Evaluation for Development?
Development is essentially about improving the wellbeing of individuals, societies and ecosystems around the world. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, signed in 2015 by 193 member states of the United Nations, confirms that development needs to be attended to by all countries. The UN also designated the year 2015 as the Year of Evaluation, reflecting the explosive growth over the previous decade of the evaluation profession around the world. Evaluation in all its forms is increasingly being recognized as having great potential to improve the way in which development is conceptualized and done. The time of thinking that blueprint or rigid models of development can work is over. Flexible governance and management approaches, informed by useful and timely evaluative evidence, are now essential.
This is so at a critical juncture, when countries and regions individually and collectively grapple with many challenges yet also have the chance to benefit from many new opportunities. It is therefore important to harness capacities from around the world for two purposes: first, to continue to advance the theory and practice of evaluation; and second, to ensure that evaluation helps to guide and direct development efforts towards success.
ICED is based in Africa, and has it as a major focus for action in the first few years of its existence. The continent has been developing fast in many places; it has huge untapped potential and still most of the poorest countries and people in the world. But it is vibrant, with abundant natural resources as well as people who are resilient and innovative, and who do much with little when they get the chance and the exposure. Africa’s development models have often not served it well, and tended to weaken its potential and its power. It needs new thinking and opportunities to experiment within its own evolving contexts and cultures, drawing on fresh ways of doing and knowing from around the world. Evaluation can be invaluable in supporting such processes.
The founders of ICED have their roots in practical experience gained in many very different parts of the world, yet are fully aware of all the theories and practices that have shaped evaluation as profession. The need for ICED was identified by its founders based on their extensive experience in the field of development-related evaluation. Intensive dialogue with numerous leading figures in this field and in aligned disciplines also clarified the need for the organisation. ICED has been shaped by seven key issues that offer the rationale for its establishment:
|1.||Development practitioners are increasingly aware of the critical role that effective evaluation must play in informing and shaping development policies, strategies and initiatives around the world. The past decade has witnessed an impressive increase in the number of governments and professional associations engaging in consequential evaluation activities. It has also seen an impressive extension of; the global reach of the EvalPartners movement and the need for evidence to action through rigorous impact evaluation initiatives. The time is right from bringing more diverse intellectual resources to bear in ways that will ensure the evaluation profession meets expectations and fulfils its value proposition for development.|
|2.||There is a dearth of think tanks and centres of excellence in the Global South that focus exclusively on evaluation and that are able to bring significant resources and expertise to bear on nurturing leadership and innovation in evaluation for development.|
|3.||There is an urgent need to rise above the evaluation of individual development projects and programmes, and take on the “big picture” development issues that are often interconnected and come to the fore at national, regional and global scales. There is thus a strong need in the Global South for qualified and independent organisations that can conduct both strategic and innovative evaluations that are context- and culture-sensitive as well as highly relevant to major development challenges in the Global South.|
|4.||Countries in the Global South offer a rich diversity of perspectives and experiences that can be tapped by evaluation professionals. Modern as well as age-old knowledge and wisdom in the Global South need to be harnessed effectively to support the evolution of evaluation theory and practice worldwide.|
|5.||It is widely recognised that the evaluation profession needs to bring to bear on its theory and practice expertise from other disciplines and perspectives from unconventional sources. To do this requires agility and strong professional networks, especially from different professions and disciplines in the currently under-represented Global South, in order to lead and stay current in a fast-moving world.|
|6.||The evaluation profession is becoming a very fashionable field of work worldwide, and as such is attracting people who may lack sufficient skills and insights to do justice to the demands of the profession. Evaluation for development is a specialised profession that demands significant levels of evaluative thinking and ethics, appropriate work experience, and technical expertise far beyond the application of social research methods. Professionals need the ability to understand development challenges in the Global South in depth, nuance and sensitivity to culture and context.
They should be able to integrate facts and perspectives as well as quantitative and qualitative data and insights, consider the role of values across the evaluative process, apply systems and complexity thinking in designs and analyses, master the evaluative aspects of evaluation, and judge situations and efforts based on evidence, experience and intuition. For the sake of the profession and the contributions it can make to development, more should be done to nurture and draw into the profession the right level and type of expertise.
ICED recognizes the importance of diversity and context. It respects and works with many cultures around the world, and is highly sensitive to the need to be culturally responsive and embrace the notion of cultural validity.
ICED does not ascribe to any specific evaluation or development dogma, and works to overcome any unnecessary limits imposed by disciplinary, ideological, geographical or sectoral boundaries. It is fiercely independent and does not tolerate undue influences on how it conducts its work.
ICED does not duplicate the efforts of others. Instead, it aims to catalyze and inspire new action. It brings together teams of carefully selected associates from across disciplines, professions and sectors – within and beyond the evaluation profession - to collaborate on time-bound projects within larger ongoing programs. It highlights the work of others, not only its own, and targets influential initiatives in order for its work to ripple out across sectors and professions. Its cross-cutting themes ensure that it stays at, and supports the cutting edge of developments worldwide, while its guiding principles ensure that it stays true to its founding vision.