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AfrEA Conference 2017: Evaluation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Opportunities and Challenges for Africa

EDI were well represented at the latest, and 8thAfrican Evaluation Association (AfrEA) International Conference, 27th – 31st March 2017, Kampala, Uganda, aimed to tackle the question of how we, as evaluators, can assess and ultimately support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was a fantastic opportunity for over 500 representatives across the evaluation profession to meet, present and share ideas.

The conference kicked off with an address from Rt. Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda, The Prime Minister of Uganda, reaffirming the country’s commitment to rigorous evaluation. In addition, the Twende Mbele (a Swahili term meaning “moving forward together”) programme was officially launched to strengthen evaluation practices and collaboration between Uganda, South Africa and Benin. The aim is to increase performance and accountability of governments by building effective Monitoring and Evaluation systems.

       Attendees were treated to a showcase of traditional Ugandan dance, an extremely interactive and participatory affair!

The keynote address welcomed the attendees and set the tone for the rest of the conference. Representatives from the Ugandan government, Ugandan Evaluation Association and American Evaluation Association talked passionately about the strengths of the evaluation community and set out a vision for the future of evaluation in Africa and globally. Marco Segone, Director of the Independent Evaluation Office of UNWomen, talked in greater detail about the SDGs and how evaluation is a crucial element of ensuring that all the goals are met by 2030.

          Introduction of the theme of the conference : Evaluation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Opportunities and Challenges for Africa

Evaluations of Education

The role of education is apparent throughout the SDGs and one of the 17 goals is explicitly providing quality education. The discussion in development around education has moved from simply widening access to schools for children, but ensuring that when they are in school they receive useful and meaning education.

The parallel session was on Impact Evaluation of Education programs. It included two papers evaluating education programs in South Africa and Tanzania. The first was presented by Nompumelelo Mohohlwane from the Department of Basic Education (SA) of a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT impact evaluation of a primary school literacy program. The study found that by providing teachers with lesson plans and conducting coaching or training sessions with teachers had a positive and significant effect on the reading proficiency of students.

The second presentation by Michele Binci from Oxford Policy Management talked about an innovative quasi-experimental impact evaluation design of the EQUIP-T program focusing on improving teacher performance. The evaluation merged the difference-in-difference approach with propensity score matching – an attempt to overcome unobserved differences in the population, and even matched students across time – a ‘pseudo panel’ as a robustness check.

Evaluation of Financial Inclusion

Financial inclusion plays a crucial role in achieving the SDGs. Financial inclusion allows people to build up savings to protect themselves from economic shocks and transfer money to other in a safe and quick manner. The session on evaluations of financial inclusion was led by Johannes Kinzinger and Sinja Buri, two researchers from the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The presentations were on two studies from Senegal and Democratic Republic of Congo. In particular the study in Senegal was an RCT where individuals in the treatment group were encouraged to open a mobile money or bank account at a specific branch or agent. The findings showed that those directed to open an account had more deposits and withdrawals and that trust in the agent or bank was a large driving factor in this. The paper also touched on the use of big-data, using administrative data to track transactions. What followed was a lively debate on the challenges of commercial partner buy-in to an evaluation.

Evaluation of Social Protection Programs

Social protection programs aim to protect poor and vulnerable groups against economic and social risks. Evaluation has a close link to cash transfer programs, a form of social protection in developing countries. The impact evaluation of PROGRESA in Mexico at the turn of the century has cash transfer programs being adopted across the developing, and even developed, world. It was therefore highly appropriate for the AfrEA conference to showcase evaluations on cash transfers. Two presentations were made by Ebenezer Owusu-Addo, a researcher from Monash University. Most notably the first focused on the methodology of evaluating cash transfer programs, presenting a review of 64 papers. The review called for greater nuance when evaluating cash transfer programs with a need for theory driven evaluation and mixed methods. Strong theories of change and qualitative data alongside the quantitative data can help guide the field in not only knowing whether cash transfers work or not, but why.

Closing Thoughts

The closing keynote address was from Emmanuel Jiminez, Executive Director at 3ie, celebrated the progress of the AfrEA and the use of evaluation in evidence-based decision making in developing countries. He also delivered three vital questions to the evaluation community to guide the profession in the coming years:

1) Are we evaluating the right thing?

2) Are we sure that we are during this in the best way possible?

3) Are we making sure, after doing the right thing, that evaluation findings permeate to decision makers?