Paving the way to enhanced learning institutions through evaluations

Languages: English

By Oscar A. Garcia, Director, Independent Office of Evaluation of IFAD

In recent years, multilateral development organizations and international financial institutions have given serious thought to how learning and knowledge-sharing can provide a cutting edge to improve their development effectiveness. Development institutions are increasingly engaging in knowledge management, generating, sharing and applying knowledge to improve practices and scale up success. Learning is gradually being integrated into key business processes – for example, by establishing learning networks and communities of practice – accompanied by appropriate incentives to help drive a culture of innovation and sharing. With all these changes and efforts happening at all levels, is learning actually taking place?

To answer this question and fully appreciate how knowledge management and learning bolster development effectiveness at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), we need to look at its core business: rural development. Agriculture is the primary livelihood of rural people in developing countries. Today, some 500 million smallholder farmers are responsible for 80 per cent of food production in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, which alone accounts for about one third of the world's total population. Despite the amount of financial resources invested in food security, the increasing international focus on nutrition, and the general reduction in world hunger, more than 800 million people still go hungry every day. Among them are women, children and men who live in rural environments, and whose vulnerability is exacerbated by the effects of environmental degradation, in particular climate change, which exposes their livelihoods  even more to extreme weather conditions and the effects of desertification, land degradation and floods.

One of the responses to such challenges would be to increase productivity in rural areas, and this could be achieved by investing in training and innovation – for example, disseminating agricultural best practices and scaling up innovative and more sustainable farming techniques – and by improving access to markets for smallholder farmers – two of IFAD's core thrusts. Over the years, IFAD has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge on how to address such critical challenges in many regions of the world, and this is the kind of knowledge an institution like IFAD should capitalize on to improve itself and its development effectiveness.

This is where evaluation can step in to help IFAD learn and better manage knowledge: as mentioned in IFAD's Evaluation Policy, IOE is an active member of IFAD's knowledge management community of practice. This "feedback loop" is carried out through independent evaluations, which generate reports and syntheses, which in turn inform IFAD's Board members, senior management and staff about the lessons learned and provide recommendations to improve IFAD's operations and therefore its development effectiveness. When we talk about development effectiveness we refer to both lending (i.e. loans) and non-lending activities (e.g. policy dialogue, partnership development and knowledge management): based on the combination of the knowledge obtained from these two sources, IFAD should be in the position to support the rural transformation in an inclusive and sustainable manner. IOE has a great contribution to make and has developed a number of knowledge products, for instance corporate-level and country programme evaluations or evaluation insights and the Annual Report on Results and Impact of IFAD operations, to stimulate internal reflection about what works, what does not work, and most importantly, why.

As an active member of the evaluation community, including the Evaluation Cooperation Group (ECG) and the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG), IOE shares its good practices in order to use evaluation for greater effectiveness and accountability and to disseminate lessons learned from evaluations. As part of such an important networks, we are very proud to host an event on 25 November 2014 at the IFAD Headquarters in Rome, where Caroline Heider, Senior Vice-President and Director General of the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) of the World Bank, will present the findings and insights of a recently-released evaluation report,"Learning and Results in World Bank Operations: How the Bank Learns", the first of two evaluation products that analyse how knowledge is acquired, captured and transferred in the course of lending operations, and how the extent and quality of learning help shape operational outcomes in the World Bank.

The report provides an angle to evaluating the World Bank as a learning organization, and its findings are a great learning opportunity for IFAD in its attemps to gather, understand and apply the lessons learned at other institutions in managing knowledge and learning. Such lessons from evaluations will ultimately help IFAD to drive change in enhancing its own role as a knowledge-based organization, a role that will require continuous efforts and pose further challenges should the Fund be willing to remain at the forefront of rural development and poverty eradication.