Footprint evaluation focuses on the ‘footprint’ that human systems make on natural systems. This requires attention to the nexus between human systems and natural systems. Footprint evaluation is grounded in the premise that all evaluations should include consideration of environmental sustainability, even when this is not a stated goal of the intervention. This is so that decision-making can take into account the potential and actual impacts of planned interventions (projects, programs, policies) on the environment.
Why footprint evaluation is needed
The world is faced with numerous environmental crises with potential for global catastrophe, including climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and deforestation. In order to address, mitigate and avoid these, it is essential that decision-making takes into account the potential and actual environmental impacts of planned interventions, and that evaluations of interventions provide this information. However, although the OECD-DAC evaluation criteria including 'significant environmental impacts' in the scope of impact evaluation, most evaluation usually fails to do so, and specialist environmental evaluation often focuses on narrow technical questions rather than using evaluation concepts, processes and methods to answer evaluative questions in ways that can support improved decision-making.
Improving evaluations to be able to include ‘footprint evaluation’ will require a combination of supply (more people who can do this), demand (more people asking for this in evaluations) and enabling environments (setting up systems to provide incentives, opportunities and capacities to do this).
Other relevant approaches and interventions
Footprint evaluation complements other cross-cutting initiatives in evaluation which address related issues – including Blue Marble Evaluation, which focuses on evaluating global systems change initiatives, and Transforming Evaluation, which looks at a range of ways evaluation needs to be transformed to support the transformations needed to reach SDGs.
Footprint evaluation can also leverage and connect with other work being done in the environmental evaluation space, such as the Environmental Social Governance indicators in impact investing.
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Memorial Day Week: Sustainability-Ready Evaluation by Andy Rowe: In this AEA365 bolog, Andy Rowe argues that human system interventions have direct effects on the natural system; ignoring these direct effects causes evaluation to have a systematic and positive bias.
Sustainability‐Ready Evaluation: A Call to Action: To facilitate the development of sustainability‐ready evaluation, this paper by Andy Rowe provides an initial checklist and references to useful resources.
The Footprint Evaluation Project
This thematic page is an output of the Footprint Evaluation project - a co-creation and research project funded by the Global Evaluation Initiative. The project is grounded in the premise that all evaluations should include consideration of environmental sustainability, even when this is not a stated goal of the intervention. This is so that decision-making can take into account the potential and actual impacts of planned interventions (projects, programs, policies) on the environment.
You can find out more about the Footprint Evaluation Project here, including the project's learning questions and planned outputs.
This thematic page is a work in progress and we will be sharing more resources and examples here. Please feel free to use the comments section below to add suggestions for resources or other organisations and events relevant to footprint evaluation.