Rethinking Impact Evaluation for Development

Edited by: Barbara Befani, Chris Barnett and Elliot Stern

November 2014
Volume 45 Number 6

This IDS Bulletin presents a 'rallying cry' for impact evaluation to rise to the challenges of a post-MDG/post-2015 world. It is the first of two issues that follow a workshop entitled 'Impact, Innovation and Learning: Towards a Research and Practice Agenda for the Future', held at IDS in March 2013.

Convening a distinguished group of scholars and practitioners, this event situated development evaluation in general, and impact evaluation in particular, in the specific setting of today's complex and changing international development context. It aimed to sketch out a research and practice agenda to meet increasing demands for evidence about successful programmes and projects. Such evidence – needing to serve accountability and learning purposes while being accessible to recipients and donors – goes beyond innovation on research methods.

Methodological innovation is tightly linked to the new requirements of development impact evaluation; methods with the best current reputation are not necessarily the best at addressing the multiplicity of development outcomes, or the complex pathways towards long-term impact. This is fertile ground for a new research and practice agenda: one that can better enable impact evaluation to meet the new purposes of development cooperation; one that can innovate around methodological designs and practice to address increasingly complex challenges; and one that will help us better understand and improve evaluation systems.

The success of such an emerging agenda rests on whether we can make better use of evaluative evidence to have a real impact on the lives of the poorest and most marginalised.