With an estimated annual research portfolio of more than USD 900 million, CGIAR aims to reduce rural poverty, improve food security, human health and nutrition, and improve the sustainable management of natural resources. Undergoing an ambitious structural reform, a reformulated One CGIAR will address new challenges in international agricultural research while keeping up with emerging crises. Under this ambit, monitoring, evaluation and learning aim to facilitate accountability that will lead to evidence-based decision-making and actionable insights from program implementation.

Evaluation plays a key role in generating evidence about what does and does not work in different contexts, identifying lessons learned for CGIAR stakeholders. In February 2022, the CGIAR System Board (23rd Session) and System Council (15th Meeting) approved the new CGIAR Evaluation Framework and revised Evaluation Policy. The new fit-for-purpose Framework and Policy respond to the growing pace of change to support the evolving needs and demands of CGIAR. Their revision process has already enabled repositioning evaluation functions on certain lines of action that align to internal and external drivers, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The new Evaluation Framework and revised Policy support the One CGIAR transformation as stated in the 2030 CGIAR Research and Innovation Strategy and accompanying Performance and Results Management Framework. The Strategy ensures inclusion of a timely and effective adaptive management approach, while incorporating a culture of reflection, fostering continuous improvement and problem-solving using evidence. As the Chair of the 15th CGIAR System Council meeting explained in his summary, the new CGIAR Evaluation Framework and Policy are fully backed by One CGIAR management, “demonstrating how strong policies can be a management tool and ensure that evidence can connect with decision-making.”

Differences between the Framework and Policy

The new Framework sets the overall approach to process and performance evaluations in CGIAR. The revised Policy provides details about evaluation criteria, complementarities, and roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders within the CGIAR System, describing the areas under review and the management response process. Positing a theory of change for CGIAR’s evaluation practice, and the core mandatory standards and principles for the practice of evaluation, the Framework also anchors CGIAR’s evaluation policy, mandating pillars for the conduct and use of process and performance evaluations.

The revised Policy positions CGIAR’s evaluation practice within the organization’s internal governance and management frameworks, and within relevant global contexts and international industry standards. This Policy adheres to the most recent international evaluation benchmarks, including revised OECD Development Assistance Committee evaluation criteria. It also reflects the characteristics of research for development in the CGIAR context, consistent with the quality of research for development frame of reference: it includes a designated evaluation criterion on Quality of Science among others. Towards developing related guidelines, a discussion on evaluating science was recently co-led by CAS/Evaluation and FAO at the EvalForward community of practice.  

Applicability and scope

The Framework and Policy apply to all parts of CGIAR — namely, each of the legal entities and business units that, taken together, constitute CGIAR as an operating entity. This includes the CGIAR System Organization, all CGIAR Research Centers (as defined in the CGIAR System Framework, revised in 2019, pending approval in 2022), and all organizational business units being formed under One CGIAR.

Broadening the scope beyond ‘external’ evaluations, the 2022 CGIAR Evaluation Policy supersedes the former 2012 CGIAR Policy for Independent External Evaluation.

Roles and responsibilities for evaluation

In CGIAR, successful implementation of the Evaluation Framework and Policy relies on aligning quality assurance, including in the realm of management, performance monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL). As a custodian of the Policy, the CGIAR Advisory Services Secretariat handles all Framework and Policy-related concerns from MEL professionals and engages with others across the System and its partners, to facilitate learning and accountability, and enhance synergies.

While unique to each organizational context, evaluation policies have the potential to underscore or drive institutional shifts towards transforming internal evaluation systems and guide standards externally. Most donor-funded development organizations have formal, defined evaluation frameworks and policies to guide their evaluation work. In their absence, some implementers rely on the evaluation policies of funders or partners.

Within any development context, having a coherent evaluation policy and framework enables organizations to guide evaluation activities, such as defining roles and responsibilities, in a holistic way. This ensures standards are maintained, are transparent and coherent, and feed into decision-making at the policy level for accountability and improvements. In research organizations, and those in the research for development (R4D) space, the need for such a formal policy may not be so obvious. For instance, at the Natural Resources Institute, specialist research, development and education organization of the University of Greenwich, UK, there is no formal institute-wide evaluation framework or policy. However, each project delivery proposal and implementation plan includes an evaluation strategy based on the context, even when it has not been explicitly requested by the funding partner, to facilitate the assessment of project outcomes and lessons learned at the end of the intervention.

Organizational policies ensure that evaluation activities are not carried out in an ad hoc manner while encouraging organization-wide thinking and interdisciplinarity. As most R4D work is interdisciplinary, a policy that encourages organization-wide thinking ensures the provision of better-quality evidence for decision-making at policy level.

Towards joint learning on the role of evaluation policies, CAS/Evaluation, the evaluation offices of the three United Nations Agencies based in Rome (FAO, IFAD and WFP), will convene at the European Evaluation Society Conference in June 2022 to reflect on contributions of evaluation policies in transforming evaluation systems to address current challenges.