Oberscherli, SwitzerlandOberscherli, Switzerland

Facts over Board ?

The wave of political tremors in the US has even swapped over to the evaluation discipline. What if fact-based decision making goes swimming, replaced by fabricated worldviews to the taste of those in the drivers’ seat? What if lies start shaping the political debate to an extent that finding evidence on change and assessing their underlying drivers risks to slide into a subcontracting business for the reality-designers? And what if methodical rigour and evaluative craftsmanship are increasingly belittled because what matters in the post-factual era is plausible belief rather than established knowledge?

This kind of almost middle-age like reflections would have been totally inappropriate just about a year ago. The gross vectors of where the planetary future and its many pilots were heading to was felt to be common understanding. Exponents who conspired against science and facts-based policy making, who rejected the insights about climate change dynamics or who bluntly invented statistics and events to underpin their weird theories of supposed threats would have disqualified themselves in politics, business or science with no hesitation. But today, such figures emerge around the globe. They take office in powerful administrations, they provoke inflammatory political discourse and ultimately add to the fears of alienated citizens and electors to drift away from rationally informed opinion building. No self-disqualification, rather the capture of a thought-to-be civilized way of co-existence of nations under the guidance of rights-based polity, of hardly negotiated multilateral agreements on trade, development and environment and the value systems of democracy and freedom.

If Robert Picciotto said in his article The 5th Wave - Social impact evaluation in late 2015 that “evaluation is still an infant industry” or that “Evaluation will have to undergo a cultural revolution to keep up with these new actors (private corporations and philanthropic foundations)”, he was clearly inspired by the global challenges of shrinking resources and rising insecurity in an increasingly digitized environment. He has called for new internationalized evaluation policy directions, the diversification of evaluation products, new assessment instruments in order to assess global and regional public goods and professionalized ways to deliver evaluative inputs just in time within management processes.  

The de-railed global political environment may soon provoke a next round of re-positioning of the “evaluation industry”: What are the future yardsticks to distinguish success from failure? To measure development effects and argue for plausible impact? To capture case stories of change linked to resource inputs? And provided that such reflections would yield clear answers, what brand of professional profile would be required to deliver such services? Are today’s evaluators and the numerous evaluation capacity building institutions worldwide prepared to address such fundamental paradigm shifts in thinking?
Or, and that seems to me more likely, will established common-sense and commitment to strengthen analytical evaluation culture in governments, business and the NGOs continue to grow? The post-factual “reality” is a challenge to all to further professionalise evaluation products and services and to claim – more than ever – a rightful place in developmental change processes as honest brokers. Now more than ever!
                                                                        Martin Sommer
                                                                        Managing Consultant devolutions Ltd.