This is #3 in our series on visionary evaluation. Why is equity so important in evaluation? How can evaluations be better designed to account for equity issues?
I first started to think about equity as an issue in my work as a ‘development practitioner’ as a realistic alternative to the calls by development donors such as the Australian Aid Agency (AusAID) for ‘gender equality’. I say a realistic alternative because in the area of community development, which is where my work is mostly located, gender equality is so difficult to achieve in terms of equal numbers of men and women participating and in terms of equal outcomes for men and women. There are many reasons for this but they can be summed up as ‘barriers to participation’ and these barriers are mostly gendered. For example, literacy requirements, time availability and timing of activities usually disadvantage women, whereas projects such as micro finance and savings and loans setups generally target women and can disenfranchise men. When you add to these realities, the facts that culture, ethnicity and religion in developing countries (and even for ethnic minorities in developed countries) achievement of equality, especially within the timeframe of a development project, is almost impossible. Equality, then, is more of a strategic objective whereas equity is something which can be achieved in the short term.
The UNICEF my M&E website describes equity as, “...being fair to both men and women”. Being fair has an aspect of consideration for the needs or different requirements of men and women. Equality usually means the same for everyone.
Equity also has an ethical aspect to it. Treating people equally or the same may, in some cases, be unethical. For example, using written surveys or questionnaires with persons who are illiterate or cannot read the language in which the document is written, would be an unethical practice. Using a method which everyone can understand is both equitable and ethical.
In relation to evaluation, achieving equity can be a little more difficult than achieving it in project implementation. In evaluation there are three areas in which equity should be the objective – the informant or data collection area, the findings and conclusions of the evaluation and, then, in the recommendations arising from the evaluation.
I used to think that if I ensured that all the barriers to participation were minimised through the use of user-friendly and culturally appropriate data collection tools then participation would be maximised, and thus, ensuring that both men and women would be able to participate (Donnelly, 2010). I now realise that this was based on two assumptions – that all men and women wanted to participate but some were prevented by the ‘barriers to participation’, and that everyone had something to contribute to the evaluation. Experience has shown me that these assumptions are not necessarily accurate. Not everyone wants to be involved and even if people do participate, if they do not have what the UNDP (2014) and Kumar (2002) refer to as, “...understanding of the internal dynamics of their project, its successes and failures…”, they may not have anything to contribute. In such cases their ‘ignorance’ could be seen as another barrier to participation – they have had no equity in the project/activity/intervention being evaluated. Informants then need to have had equity in the project/activity/intervention being evaluated and must be able to participate through the use of tools which are fair to all informants.
If people are unable to make an informed contribution to the evaluation, the lack of reliable data can influence the findings and the conclusions of the evaluation. The findings and conclusions, if drawn from uninformed/unreliable data may have a bias which may be unfair to either men or women or both. The recommendations drawn from such findings and conclusions may also be such that they potentially create an unfair situation for men or women (or both) in any future projects/activities/interventions derived from the evaluation outputs of findings, conclusions and recommendations.
To achieve equality in evaluations, it is important that the project/activity/intervention being evaluated was equitable. At the very least the informants to the evaluation must have had equity in the project/activity/intervention so that they can have an equitable role in the evaluation. It is also just as important that informants to the evaluation can contribute to the evaluation in a manner which is suitable to their abilities, customs and practices. It is far better to have quality/valid representation for men and women in an evaluation than to just ensure equal representation through numbers.
Equity in evaluation is enhanced further by involving men and women who wish to do so, in the consideration of the findings (analysis) to determine the conclusions (what was achieved) and the recommendations (how might we do it better next time). This level of involvement not only is equitable and ethical, it enhances equity in future projects/activities/interventions.
The real value of equity in evaluation is that through equity real equality in evaluation is achieved.
Donnelly, J. (2010). Maximising participation in international community-level project evaluation; a strength based approach. Evaluation Journal of Australasia 10(2): 43-50.
Kumar, S. (2002). Methods for Community Participation: A complete guide for practitioners. London: ITDG Publishing.
UNDP. Participatory evaluation. http://web.undp.org/evaluation/documents/whop2.htm (accessed on 16 June 2014)
UNICEF. Equity-focused and gender responsive evaluations. http://www.mymande.org/MYM&E (accessed on 16 June 2014)
Perspectives from others
Rosalind Eyben, Emeritus Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK.
Juliet Willetts, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney
This document is made up of a range of Evaluation Working Papers (EWP) focused on evaluation for equitable development. Put together by evaluation specialists they present strategic evaluation findings, lessons learned and innovative approaches and methodologies. Read more.
This guide from UNICEF is divided into two parts. It begins by defining equity and its importance and relevance today. It then unpacks the concept that is Equity-focused evaluation, explaining what its purpose should be and highlights potential challenges in its promotion and implementation. Read more.
This e-Learning programme addresses the opportunities and challenges, as well as the methodological implications, of evaluating the effects of policies, programmes, and projects designed to enhance equitable development results. A special focus is directed toward effects on the most excluded, marginalized, and deprived groups. Read more.
Cartoon: Julie Smith