Three prerequisites for learning in development aid
In last year’s report, the evaluation department in Norad raised the question of whether any learning actually takes place in development policy.
‘This year, we are bringing this argumentation a bit further and highlight certain key prerequisites for learning,’ says Per Øyvind Bastøe, evaluation director in Norad.
From May to May 2016-17, the evaluation department in Norad has produced eleven studies and held twelve seminars.
Hereby, the evaluation department’s report for 2016–2017 highlights three key lessons.
- Read the annual report for 2016–2017 from the evaluation department, now available in English: Prerequisites for learning
Prerequisites for learning
Many of the reports published over the last twelve months have been synthesis studies, i.e. reviews of large amounts of documentation on specific topics.
‘For example, we have studied the ways in which the other OECD countries undertake their evaluation activities,’ Bastøe says.
The evaluation department has also published a number of background studies. Examples include the reports on long-term humanitarian crises and expenditure on refugees in Norway. These studies provide a basis for future evaluations.
As a summary of the eleven reports, the evaluation department has concluded its annual report by noting three key lessons learned:
1. Targeted use of expertise and money
Several evaluations show that clear targets and sufficient resources are crucial for learning and change.
‘Norway has been good at this. This has been demonstrated through their work with women, peace and security, maternal and child health and illicit financial flows,’ Bastøe explains.
2. Systematic use of existing knowledge
‘It is worrying that a system that places emphasis on good management devotes so little attention to systematization of knowledge,’ Bastøe says.
The importance of making use of existing knowledge is another consistent finding from the 2016–2017 evaluation year.
‘In development assistance we possess a lot of knowledge on many issues. Making use of this knowledge is important and an advantage. This is also confirmed by the Government in its report to the Storting on development, especially in the chapter on industrial development.’
The evaluation department’s Country Evaluation Briefs seek to simplify the access to existing knowledge. The reports summarize knowledge and make it available in a simple and brief format.
3. Good systems for project evaluation
A third lesson is that the project and programme evaluation systems should be improved.
‘The combination of a clear allocation of responsibility, strict deadlines and efficient procedures helps improve the efforts undertaken,’ Bastøe says.
This point was made especially clear in the evaluation of the quality of the project and programme reviews from the Norwegian aid administration.
‘The evaluation found that the quality was extremely variable and totally dependent on the competence and capacity available in each individual unit,’ Bastøe explains.
Norwegian aid is frequently reorganized
‘Norwegian development aid administration is undergoing constant change. In our opinion, the changes will be improved by drawing on lessons learned from our own efforts and those of others,’ Bastøe affirms.
Norwegian development aid has gone through a number of reorganizations through the years. One of the most recent examples is that Norad has been charged with additional development aid-related responsibilities.
Some political parties have also called for a separate minister for development aid, and this may also entail changes in the organization of aid activities.
‘The use of evaluation knowledge is absolutely necessary in such major transition processes,’ Bastøe concludes.