Organisations devoted to development cooperation put evaluation at the heart of uncovering to which extent development projects work, and how they can be improved. In 2017, the Belgian government launched the Evaluation Capacity Building (ECB) Initiative aimed at certifying the internal evaluation systems of all Belgian actors that receive Belgian government funding. After a process of self-assessment and external review, VVOB is now a proud holder of the ECB certificate.
Why we (self-)evaluate
Donors and development organisations alike need more credible, timely evidence about their performance in a world where scepticism about development cooperation is growing, and budget allocation to development cooperation is decreasing. Evaluation holds the key. The field of evaluation has proven instrumental in improving development approaches in the past, and it continues to both reflect on and shape development thinking today.
As an implementor of international development projects, VVOB too invests in evaluations to discover what does and does not work, why that is the case, and what the impact of our projects is. The European Commission – one of our funding partners to whom we are accountable – identifies the following purposes of evaluation that are particularly relevant to VVOB:
- Advises decision-making and priority-setting: VVOB counts on evidence-based input to decide next strategic steps within a certain project, or to design new ones. Evaluation helps us understand if we are working effectively and efficiently towards our goals.
- Organisational learning: As the OECD states, “development agencies that adopt an institutional attitude that encourages critical thinking and a willingness to adapt and improve continuously, will be more effective in achieving their goals” (p. 13). VVOB firmly believes in creating a learning culture. Inquisitiveness, a critical attitude and a healthy hunger for knowledge of staff is crucial for improvement. Evaluation also has the added benefits of discovering the ‘unintended’ and ’unexpected’ effects of our work.
- Transparency and accountability: Our partners, funding or otherwise, have the right to know how we use our resources and to which effect, and to hold us accountable. As an organisation committed to partners in the long-term, VVOB attaches great importance to trust and transparency in our relationship with them.
Taking the LEADS
As an institutional donor, Belgium announced in 2017 that it would certify the ‘internal evaluation systems’ of all Belgian actors that receive government funding. The Evaluation Capacity Building (ECB) Initiative was thus launched.
The main instrument of the certification process is a self-assessment tool. In June 2018, VVOB assembled a team consisting of colleagues from around the world to carry out the assessment of four evaluations that had taken place between 2014 and 2016. The team scored the evaluations based on 41 criteria of good practices such as whether the terms of reference contained clear objectives, a limited number of evaluation questions, a clear target group etc., using the LEADS scoring template:
- ‘L’ in case little or no elements could be found that contributes to the evaluative practice;
- ‘E’ in case ‘some elements’ were present;
- ‘A’ in case we could show ‘clear action’ for the criterium;
- and ‘D’ and ‘S’ in case the practice was ‘clearly developed’ or even ‘sustainable’, meaning fully institutionalised.
Obtaining ECB through hard work
This participatory process was completed in September 2018 and resulted in a comprehensive self-assessment report and an improvement plan, which was also mandatory to highlight the organisational priorities in terms of evaluation. Both documents were reviewed by an external assessor and a government representative to discuss the reports more in detail. The way in which the self-assessment was carried out was also an important aspect of the review. The external assessor largely endorsed the self-assessment and also commended the improvement plan for its coherence and clarity. In May 2019, VVOB was awarded the ECB certificate.
VVOB has a history of maximising its quality and being acknowledged for it: in 2014, we obtained the EFQM-label ‘Committed to Excellence’ and Brussels’ Ecodynamic Label. In 2016, VVOB successfully underwent a thorough screening process carried out by the Belgian government as a precondition for renewed funding until 2026. The ECB acknowledgement again testifies to our commitment to quality, effectiveness and continuous improvement.
The Evaluation Capacity Building self-assessment manual was illustrated with various pictures of elephants, chosen by the Special Evaluation Office (SEO) of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. According to them, elephants symbolise the strength of organisations, their impact and manoeuvrability. The ECB certificate is a commitment to continuously improve the quality of evaluations. The ECB process should help organisations to better understand and integrate change. It is a learning process, whereby each organisation develops the agility that is needed to realise its vision, mission and contribution to impact in the North and South.