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The Role of Monitoring and Evaluation in the UN 2030 SDGs Agenda

Persaud, Nadini. & Dagher, Ruby

Nadini Persaud

Palgrave McMillian Publishing



Hardcopy and electronic


monitoringevaluationchallengesagendasustainable development goalsindicatorstargetsculturepolitics of evaluationbuilding an evaluation culturedata collection challengesdecision-makingshocks





BRIEF OVERVIEW This book examines the UN 2030 SDGs Agenda and its comprehensive, multi-stakeholder approach to achieving a more human rights-based and environmentally sustainable development process. More crucially, it provides a much needed and innovative analysis of the role of Monitoring and Evaluation in this Agenda and the challenges that evaluators will face due to the Agenda's inherent weaknesses, coupled with the practice and limited culture of evaluation in general. The authors look to actively help evaluators and other interested parties to develop their capacity to evaluate this ambitious Agenda and develop mitigating strategies for the inherent challenges that will be encountered whilst implementing and evaluating this Agenda. DHAPTERS AND ABSTRACTS Chapter 1: The United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda This introductory chapter presents the Sustainable Development Goals and the various stakeholders that are involved in their achievement. It also summarises the progress that has been achieved thus far, the challenges that remain, and the changes that need to be undertaken to allow for improvements in and increased success of the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda. Chapter 2: Major Challenges Confronting Sustainable Development of Countries and the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals This chapter provides a critical assessment of the major challenges that confront the achievement of the SDGs. It also provides a detailed analysis of the main internal and external factors that influence the factors of success. Critically, the chapter assess the inherent contradiction between the prescribed roles of the various actors in the SDG Agenda, their actual role, and the factors that influence the divergence between what is prescribed and what exists in reality under the current international governance and economic systems. Chapter 3: Data—The Lifeblood of Decision Making This chapter provides an important assessment of the value of data collection. It also provides a critical assessment of the value and quality of data and data collection methodologies. Given that data collection is a central exercise to the measurement of the achievement of the SDGs, the study and assessment of the amount and quality of the data collected, and the choice of data being collected is vital for evaluators. Chapter 4: The Importance of Monitoring and Evaluation for Decision-Making With a rich discussion of the role of monitoring and evaluation (M&E), the differences between monitoring and evaluation, and the various types of evaluations that can be undertaken, this chapter provides a rich assessment of the tools that evaluators can use to assess advancements in the SDGs, lessons learned, accountability, and the power of the interconnected nature of the SDGs. It also provides a critical assessment of the challenges that the evaluation domain faces. Chapter 5: Making Monitoring and Evaluation a Part of National and Organizational Culture Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is an essential part of ensuring accountability, learning and enhanced approaches to policy and practice. However, as this chapter demonstrates, the culture of M&E is severely limited or absent in most countries for budgetary, cultural, and structural reasons and is often influenced by political and personal ambitions of those funding the evaluations and those undertaking them. These challenges, along with others discussed in this chapter, have contributed to the weakening of the field of evaluation and to the rise in demands for its professionalization through certifications and quality controls. ? Chapter 6: The Implication of Major Shocks and Changing Global Dynamics on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, Data Collection, and Monitoring and Evaluation This chapter addresses some of the major shocks that have significantly influenced the conditions in countries around the world and at the international governance and economic levels. By focusing on the global and local consequences of the most recent global pandemic and financial crises, the analysis helps highlight some of the regression of or challenges to the achievement of many of the SDGs and the implications of the resulting decreases in public sector budgets on the demand for and implementation of M&E. Chapter 7: Policy Frameworks Needed to Achieve Sustainable Development Given the interconnectedness of the SDGs and of the varying magnitudes in the role of the various actors involved in the design and achievement of the SDGs, it is imperative that policy frameworks avoid designing and implementing a silo-approach. This chapter draws on this interconnectedness to not only highlight the necessity for policy makers and evaluators to assess the unintended consequences of the changes being implemented in one area on another area, but to also assess the impact of power dynamics and influences on the design of the goals, initiatives, measurements, and expected outcomes. Chapter 8: Measuring the Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals This chapter raises significant concerns regarding the manner in which the achievement of the SDGs is being pursued. The analysis shows significant weaknesses related to the inadequate design of targets and indicators, the weak measurement of targets, the significant focus on singular indicators to measure complex targets, and the ideological influence to develop indicators that fail the quality test. The chapter also presents country officials and evaluators with some solutions or actions that can be taken to mitigate these weaknesses even when budgets are limited. FOREWORD It is commonly thought that there are two main ways to write an introduction to evaluation, whether for people with social science training or without it. You can either write a handbook about evaluation methodology, with short illustrations of each point; or you can dissect a full scale project evaluation, step by step, explaining each step. In a full-scale program for an evaluation major, of course, you would provide both. What we have here is like the second approach, although importantly different in ways we will discuss in a moment. But first I want to stress that one of the two co-authors of present work (Dr. Persaud) is simultaneously publishing an introductory handbook to evaluation of the methodological variety. So, she is providing both kinds of introduction—you, if a beginner, can choose your preference. What’s particularly interesting here is that the example of a real-world evaluation chosen by these authors for a detailed examination and instructional theme is not a complete evaluation, but an evaluation plan. The plan chosen is perhaps the most important plan for benevolent social progress that has ever achieved international support by more than a hundred nations. It is in fact the United Nations plan for progress to be completed worldwide by 2030. The great advantage of examining a plan that is still in process is that suggestions for improvement can still be effectuated. There would be circumstances in which this effort would be vitiated by the unlikelihood of serious attempts to complete the plan. But, as those of us working in international program evaluation will know, this plan is being pushed forward in countless places in the world and it still has 10 years to run, plenty of time to refine it in light of skilled criticism. Although the term “meta-evaluation” was coined in order to refer to the evaluation of evaluations, it can, without undo dilution, be extended slightly to include the evaluation of evaluation plans. Or, in this case partially completed evaluations. It is important at this point to note that in the development of evaluation into a full-scale discipline there is at this stage a serious shortage of meta-evaluations, a shortage which reflects adversely on the scientific status of any discipline claiming to yield new truths. Repeatability is important, critique of methodology is even more important, and that is what meta-evaluation is all about, so the success of essays like the present one is important for the status of evaluation as well as for the validity of the specific results of the target of the evaluation. This leaves the reader to note the great importance of the topic chosen here, not only for the benefits it promises for the human world, but also the benefits it carries with it for further establishing the security of evaluation as a discipline. The reader will be pleased to find many places in this book where the authors turn appropriately to the clarification or explanation of some tricky methodological points that come up. These discussions will advance the general discussion of evaluation methodology as well as the particular issues that need to be addressed under the title of the book. In the international world of evaluation there has been some schizophrenia about whether to accept the efforts as evaluations that have been done on the UN 2030 agenda efforts, because the cause is so attractive that serious criticism might get in the way of continuing efforts, and the desire to improve the quality of evaluation in order to improve the guidance of the beneficially intended project being evaluated. This book provides a very important series of suggestions that can greatly improve both the UN-guided efforts and future evaluations of them. Michael Scriven Co-Director of the Claremont Evaluation Center, Professor of Psychology Claremont Graduate University Claremont, CA, USA The Role of Monitoring and Evaluation in the UN 2030 SDGs Agenda is designed to explain and help countries navigate the myriad of challenges that will be encountered while working towards the historical United Nations Agenda “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” which was ratified by one hundred and ninety-three member states of the United Nations in 2015. This universal agenda which is perhaps the most ambitious plan ever conceived in history focuses on ending extreme poverty, creating more equity, and making our planet a more sustainable and peaceful environment. The 2030 Agenda requires immediate and collaborative action and a serious commitment from all for successful implementation. The initiative, while being highly commendable, is however a momentous and challenging undertaking. As such, we focus on providing a candid discussion on the design and development of the Agenda and the myriad of challenges that are likely to be encountered along the way as countries try to navigate the Agenda. Our book represents a timely and very important body of work to help those responsible for implementation to navigate the complexity of the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, by helping to shed light on (a) the goals and their apparent importance, (b) the challenges with data collection and M&E, (c) the challenges presented with many of the indicators and targets, (d) the interlinkages between the goals, and (e) the way forward to navigate this complex Agenda so that realistic expectations can be achieved. The effects of the global economic recession brought on by the COVID-19 global health pandemic are also discussed since this has major implications for the Agenda as substantial financial resources are needed for this initiative when the world is currently in an economic recession which may well last beyond 2030. Our book is divided into eight chapters. The first chapter provides context for the remaining chapters by highlighting the history leading up to the initiative, the importance of the Agenda and why it matters, factual but deeply troubling statistics on the world situation as it pertains to each goal, and the role of the various stakeholders in the process. The second chapter discusses major challenges confronting the Agenda. Chapters 3 to 5 focus on data collection and monitoring and evaluation, since both of these activities are critical to the success of the Agenda. Chapter 6 examines the implications of major shocks and changing global dynamics on the implementation of the Agenda. Chapter 7 zooms in on the policy frameworks needed to make the Agenda a reality, and the final chapter highlights concerns with the indicators proposed to measure progress towards the goals. The unique combination of ideas and thoughts in this book is developed from real-world practical field experiences grounded in academic expertise of monitoring and evaluation, international development, and developmental economics. We present a very pragmatic perspective of what currently prevails with data collection and monitoring and evaluation, a frank, critical analysis and critique of the design and realism of the Agenda, and the quality of the indicators, and offer insight on how to successfully navigate the Agenda. We write from the practitioner’s perspective since practicality and realism are central to the successful navigation of this very complex and intricate Agenda. In designing our book, we sought to ensure that it was straightforward, user-friendly, clear, concise, candid, and comprehensive, without being overly simplistic. This book is intended for an extensive and diverse array of stakeholders including academics, graduate and undergraduate students, evaluation practitioners, and policy makers, program administrators, and all staff engaged in data collection, monitoring and evaluation and policy making in the civic, private, and public sectors in both developed and developing countries across the globe. As such, the aforementioned criteria were paramount in its design to facilitate ease of use and understanding by such a diverse group. We deliberately avoid abstract and theoretical concepts so that readers can relate and place themselves within the context. Readers can easily understand why the Agenda is important, the weaknesses in its design, the environment needed to make the Agenda a reality, the challenges that will be confronted, and the role that various stakeholders must play in the implementation of the Agenda. Our overarching goal in producing this work is to help those tasked with implementation to understand that putting a plan in place is only the first step. The success of getting to completion is to understand your challenges and strategize to move towards success. As such, our book challenges policy makers to reflect on their implementation strategies, to think outside of the box, and to employ holistic thinking, not a peicemeal approach, since the goals are highly interrelated and interconnected. Signatures have already been committed. There is no turning back. It is now time to implement the Agenda and implementation is only possible when all involved understand what is required. We hope that our book inspires all readers and spurs action as we work together towards this transformational catalyst of change that is so urgently needed. In closing, we wish to take this opportunity to thank our families for their tremendous love and support as we diligently wrote our manuscript, the reviewers who were commissioned by Palgrave Macmillan to review the manuscript and provided valuable critique to improve our book, Professor Michael Scriven, Professor of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University and Co-Director of the Claremont Evaluation Center, California, United States for writing the Foreword for our book, our four endorsers, namely, Ms. Ada Ocampo, President, International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS), Professor Lynda Rey, Professor in Program Evaluation, University of Public Administration, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Mrs. Valerie Gordon, President, Caribbean Evaluators International, and Mr. Iván G. Somlai, Director, ETHNOBUREAUCRATICA and Associate, Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria, who all agreed to review and endorse our book at short notice, and—last but not least—our fantastic production team, in particular the persons who interacted with us directly, namely, Dr. Anca Pusca, Executive Director of Palgrave Macmillian, Mr. Arun Kumar, Production Editor, Springer Nature, and Ms. Kayalvizhi Saravanakumar, Project Coordinator, Books Production, Springer Nature who were always professional and exceedingly prompt in responding to correspondence and in answering and addressing our concerns. Nadini Persaud Ruby Dagher REVIEWERS ENDORSEMENTS “This book has been appropriately written at a time when the world is experiencing one of the most turbulent times in history. The current global COVID-19 crisis has led to devastating economic, social and political consequences. This is overall—a global humanitarian crisis. As countries commence rebuilding efforts they must incorporate resilience to withstand future shocks. M&E thus has a critical role to play in the current context. This role is soundly analyzed in the book The Role of M&E in the SDGs 2030 Agenda which I am delighted to endorse. Indeed, the authors brilliantly situate M&E in the current socio-political context and more specifically in the framework of the SDGs and the COVID-19 eras. Among other things, the book includes an examination of the potential contribution of M&E to inform national policy frameworks for accelerating progress towards the SDGs. This is a tremendous value addition as the linkages between M&E and socio-political contexts, albeit extremely useful for decision making, are rarely found in the literature worldwide. Because of its comprehensiveness and uniqueness, this book is relevant for a wide range of audiences, namely, policy makers, evaluators, statisticians and researchers to mention a few. Indeed, this book will prove useful to those aiming to better understand one or more of the following: How to embed M&E in national policy frameworks especially in turbulent times? How can M&E be effective in informing decision-making at the national level? In addition, the book will also prove useful to those interested in deepening their knowledge on the Agenda 2030 and its goals; as well as to those willing to improve their conceptual knowledge on M&E. All in all, a must-read book.” —Ada Ocampo (Ms.), President—International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS) “This book has succeeded in sheding light on the role of M&E in the UN 2030 SDGs Agenda and analyzing systemic and practical implications associated. More than that, the authors offer here an in-depth, realistic, holistic and transformative analysis of the SDG’s universe: purpose and rationale; implementation, M&E challenges; importance of national and international public policy frameworks needed to achieve these goals, etc. Each chapter provides a thorough analysis of the subject and data are interpreted in a concrete and pragmatic manner. The reader will learn about the progress made since 2015 for each of the goals and the road ahead to achieve the goals. The «implementation chain - from the people who developed the policy to the people who are managing it, those who are involved in it at its lowest level of implementation and finally to those who are monitoring and evaluating its implementation and results» (p. 50) is clearly depicted. Moreover, internal factors (measurement capacity, policy capacity, collaboration capacity and willingness implementation capacity and political will), external factors, as well as global environmental influences are presented along with relevant theories and visuals helping the reader to grasp the complexity associated with the SDGs. The book also offers more transversal reflections not only on the harmful effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic but also the opportunity it represents to rethink and readapt SDGs to local contingencies. Authors also highlighted the indefinite search for a balance between multilateral and coordinated action and country individual responsibility to take ownership in achieving the goals. By positioning M&E as a connecting thread throughout the book, the authors have been particularly agile in painting its transdisciplinary realm from concepts/theories, basic definitions, evaluator’s roles, processes, tools, and associated challenges to the contemporary themes discussed in the field. M&E-related reflections on utility and use of data for decision making; embedment into both organisational and national culture; institutionalisation, professionalization, decolonisation and promotion of culturally rooted evaluations; role of national and international evaluation societies, evaluation dilemmas associated to politics, morals and ethics amongst others have been covered. While some may fell overwhelmed by the richness of information provided, this book is a gold mine for all the game changers - evaluators, managers, decision-makers and students - who are rather curious about, interested and/or experienced in M&E, SDGs and public policy design across sectors and disciplines. They will find both theoretical and practical knowledge to better understand the complexity characterizing the SDGs and public policies in general. Above all, may the readers find inspiration to do their part at their own level so that no one is left behind.” —Lynda Rey Ph. D., Professor in Program Evaluation—University of Public Administration, Montreal, Quebec, Canada “The UN’s SDGs Agenda was established to provide a blueprint for ending extreme poverty, reducing inequality and protecting the planet by 2030, and the SDGs are ambitious targets which all countries across the globe have been challenged to work towards achieving. Developing countries are particularly challenged due to scarce human and financial resources and the myriad social and economic problems they face on a daily basis. The role of M&E in the context of these countries is of particular importance as early feedback on progress or emerging obstacles is critical to ensuring that the most cost-effective mechanisms are employed toward achieving the SDGs. This book builds on the body of knowledge that has been generated and/or curated by the authors over years of practical experience and academic discourse. The topics covered are appropriate, relevant, and well targeted to a diverse audience that includes evaluation professionals with varying levels of proficiency and practical experience in the fields of international development and M&E. Some examples of the book’s utility are found in Chapter 5: “Making M&E a part of national and organisational culture” which provides guidance to countries grappling with this very issue; and Chapter 6: “The implication of major shocks and changing global dynamics on the implementation of the SDGs Data Collection and M&E” which provides solid insights for operating within the constraints such as those imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on data collection and evaluation practice in general.” —Valerie Gordon, President—Caribbean Evaluators International “This book is the practitioner’s encyclopedia! Having monitored and evaluated projects across the globe, discussions on SDGs have become commonplace, with my local colleagues expressing exasperation with the complexity of managing and monitoring the required goals and indicators. This timely book should henceforth be required reading for managers and implementers of SDGs. The authors have succeeded in adeptly dissecting the numerous and sometimes overlapping elements of this UN initiated programme, clarifying the interrelationships of all components and emphasizing the intensity of collaboration required to optimize chances for progress. During this COVID-19 era, dealing with uncertainty should be expected. Communicating to the citizens accurate information, with explanations to help understand the reasons for suggesting, planning and implementing certain efforts, is essential. As with the pandemic, if as SDG activities roll out it emerges from data that certain aspects which earlier seemed appropriate need to be changed, then there needs to be flexibility to adapt, adjust, recover from setbacks and continue the effort. Plans and good intentions aside, adequate resources must be availed for truly effective progress. Like the pandemic, diligently working towards and realizing SDG goals is a marathon; thus patience, understanding and steadfast collective effort is most important, as clarified in detail in this book. I was also most glad to read in this book references to holisticism, i.e., the need and benefit of approaching human development in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary fashion. This, indeed, demands gaining insights as to local ways of thinking and doing things, as well as understanding the local bureaucratic culture that would inevitably remain involved. Thus, aligning international perspectives and intentions to national priorities is, in the end, the only way for a chance at success. Each chapter of this book deserves a book on its own and is appropriately organized for focused training. For a comprehensive overview of the issues that could serve to inform and energize planners, organizers and implementers, this book by Drs. Persaud and Dagher meets the challenge!” —Iván G. Somlai, Director—ETHNOBUREAUCRATICA and Associate—Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria


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