Mainstreaming environmental sustainability in evaluation: EvalSDGs Insight #14

In this EvalSDGs Insight paper, Scott Chaplowe and Juha Uitto argue that there is an urgent need to mainstream environmental sustainability in evaluation.

Authors and their affiliation

Scott G. Chaplowe, International Evaluation Academy

Juha I. Uitto, Global Environment Facility

Key features

This paper is #14 in the EvalSDGs Insight series. EVALSDGs is a global network formed to add value and learning to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), made up of people with a shared interest in evaluation and sustainable development. EVALSDGs Guidance Group (GG) is an EVALSDGs sub-group focusing on strengthening capacity development for evaluation and the SDGs.  

It provides guidance on how to mainstream environmental sustainability in the evaluation of all interventions, even when environmental sustainability is not a stated goal. The paper briefly sets out the rationale for this stance, and reviews the current low level of attention to environmental sustainability in evaluations.  The rest of the paper sets out some conceptual considerations and practical examples for including environmental impact regardless of the type of evaluand (thing being evaluated). The paper also provides links to many key references and resources. 

The paper makes a strong case for including attention to environmental sustainability in evaluation as part of supporting the shift to “more environmentally responsible and risk-informed approach to policy, strategy and programming’ given the scale, scope and wide implications of the environmental emergency, which includes climate change, and the implications for equity and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – “because environmental degradation stresses the very ecosystems that support life on the planet, affecting the habitability and natural resource base needed to sustain humanity. In other words, environmental problems contribute to social problems, with the poor, marginalized, and most vulnerable bearing a disproportionate share of the burden.” 

The paper includes a discussion of different ways of framing environmental sustainability in evaluations – embedded in existing criteria (such as those set out by the OECD-DAC) or  creating a new criterion of Adaptive Sustainability, “manifesting ecosystem resilience and adaptability at the nexus of humans and the environment” as advocated by Michael Quinn Patton and the Blue Marble Initiative.  

The paper ends with an example of how one organisation – the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN agency mandated to improve food security and alleviate poverty in the rural agricultural sector – has mainstreamed environmental and social considerations into its evaluations over the past decade.  Five factors identified in its success in doing so were: 

  • High motivation and resourcing, including visionary leadership and targeted grants to test how best to do this. 
  • Mainstreaming environmental considerations as an organisational priority – not only in evaluation but also project planning and implementation. 
  • Systemic requirement and support to include environmental considerations – including in the Evaluation Policy and Evaluation Manual. 
  • Allocating capacity and resources – including the ability to fund, commission and manage evaluations that incorporate environmental considerations. 
  • Using quality assurance processes that include the coverage of environmental consequences – including internal peer review. 
  • Linking related evaluation findings to organisational learning and accountability – including tracking management response to evaluation recommendations and addressing environmental consequences in annual meta-evaluations of all IFAD projects.

How have you used this resource?

I plan to use this as a resource for engaging with organisations who are seeking to mainstream environmental sustainability in their evaluations. 

Why would you recommend this resource?

The paper provides an easily accessible, succinct (only 4 pages), and well-informed summary of key issues, a concrete example, and links to other highly relevant resources.  

'Mainstreaming environmental sustainability in evaluation: EvalSDGs Insight #14' is referenced in: