Accreditation – the word alone strikes either hope or panic into the hearts and minds of many evaluators. As a result, it is much talked about, but rarely acted upon. Let me make the case why I believe it’s time for accreditation in Development Evaluation. I have deliberately left out other areas of evaluation for reasons that will hopefully become evident below (apart from the fact that I know much less about the other areas).
Let me start with a true event that some of you may remember from the 2002 Winter Olympics. During the pairs figure skating event, Russian and France were found to have conspired leaving the Canadian pair in second place. This was a great surprise to experienced skaters (the practitioners) and coaches (the managers) and former judges (the evaluators) who had immediately upon completion of the Canadians’ performance agreed that they clearly had won gold. This scandal triggered a complete revamping of the judging system (or evaluation framework).
In Development evaluation, there is a very large body of work from international conferences and UN Resolution that provides the basic framework of what any development program or project ought to contribute to – poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, gender equality, etc. There are also a vast variety or projects and programs, ranging from the relatively simple to the nearly impossibly complex. The question is: would anyone find it acceptable for highly complex development projects involving perhaps the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people to be supervised and implemented by poorly skilled administrators who show little appreciation for the high stakes involved? Similarly, would anyone find it acceptable for the same project to have been supervised and implemented by highly proficient and experienced individuals and institutions, yet evaluated by someone (or a team led by someone) with little experience in the areas that are pertinent to the success of the project? Sadly, the answer is all too often ‘yes’ and while the former may lead to the symbolic dismissal of high-level officials, the latter rarely leads to significant consequences, other than perhaps a lost opportunity to excerpt influence on the future design, or the gradual erosion of the reputation of the commissioners of the evaluation (independent or not).