Meta-Evaluation can support the transformative impact of the SDGs

When implementing the SDGs,  Meta-Evaluation can pave the way to public policy reforms.

Evaluation processes have a key role in the national and global review systems for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The implementation of the SDGs is led by each country and adjusted to the respective national priorities. Countries will lead and determine their own needs and assessment approaches.

Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) are an important tool, deployed worldwide, to demonstrate how far countries are progressing towards the realization of the SDGs; but VNRs represent only one evaluation approach in the 2030 Agenda. Countries can look beyond evaluation in the context of global reporting through VNRs, to mainstream evaluation at the national and local levels.

Evaluations can contribute to the process of defining national priorities for the SDGs by evaluating evaluability and other tools and techniques. To maximize its utility for legislators and citizens, the monitoring and review processes should incorporate rigorous and country-led evaluations that examine the implementation and effectiveness of policies and programs, and develop well-founded and supported cases mean progress.

However, individual evaluations have a limited impact on public policy reforms. Monitoring and evaluation reports are important, but insufficient as a vehicle for systemic learning, accountability and decision making. In many cases, the recommendations do not reach the transforming level required by the SDGs and thus lose the reformist approach for public policy.

The intention of each evaluation is specifically geared to objectives to which the function of a program or project responds directly. By the way, there are different evaluation approaches, visions, tools and appropriate models available to each organization and each sector, according to the circumstances, the priorities, and the participation of the interested parties and the respective models of governance.

Although the evaluation relies on sufficient flows of administrative and contextual data and monitoring reports, it is often more effective to maintain it as a function of independent governance; and as a professional discipline focused on answering questions about how, why and what the impact is. To transform public policies, meta-analysis of evaluations is an instrument used to systematize achievements, favourable and unfavourable factors and recommendations in relation to the political level. The term ‘meta-evaluation’, used for the first time by Scriven in 1969, has been described by him as “evaluation of an evaluation or evaluation system”.

Meta-analysis refers to an evaluation of evaluations or a procedure to describe an evaluation activity. It can also refer to a synthesis of evaluations. Reviewing the evaluation will also help to identify how key messages can be interpreted, concerns about the methodology to be discussed and possible ways in which the results will be used.

Being aware of how the findings of the evaluation can be received helps to present the findings in a way that is likely to support the use. Meta-analysis can inform and strengthen future assessments and identify blind spots. It can also promote evaluation as a component of national governance and reform of public sector management, develop systems to promote transparent follow-up of evaluation recommendations and contribute to formal competency frameworks and professional evaluation standards.

In this way, meta-evaluation can be a strong entry point for countries to achieve a truly transformative development that reflects the ambition of the 2030 Agenda. When integrated into national planning, the meta-evaluation assumes additional roles and functions that go beyond the technical measurement of the objective and can even evaluate political processes and activities.