When Gustavo Petro’s administration took office in Colombia in August 2022, an important report awaited his policymakers – a summary of all the public policy evaluations conducted by the National Department of Planning (DNP) over the last four years, with clearly worded explanations of findings and recommendations on next steps. This report was the first of its kind in Colombia’s lauded history of efforts around national monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and was an important step in Colombia’s latest effort to increase the use of evaluation findings by the public sector and the general public. The report is also setting the stage for the country to show regional and global leadership on how to better communicate evaluation findings to policymakers.
A team from the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI), worked closely with the DNP, Colombia’s agency tasked with national M&E efforts, on this report, producing a document quite different than past reports. What set this report apart from previous efforts was the focus on translating results from technically rigorous evaluations into straightforward, accessible language. Making sure that evaluation results are understood by stakeholders and decision-makers is an important way to ensure that successful programs and policies receive the positive attention they deserve, while those that are struggling are improved. Communicating evaluation results clearly also helps policymakers continue to view evaluations as valuable tools. This summary report of evaluation findings was part of GEI’s ongoing support to DNP, as it undertakes the latest effort in strengthening the National Management and Results Evaluation System (Sinergia).
“The Colombian evaluation system continues to have an important presence in government decisions and is regarded as a best practice example. However, there is a willingness to improve with the GEI support. We hope to count on GEI’s support to continue improving our evaluation process and to have more and better evidence for decision making.”
For the last two years, a GEI team has been providing technical and advisory services to DNP, focusing on several intersecting factors that are influencing the uptake of evaluation findings in Colombia.
CONPES Document. Early on, Colombia decided that using the power of CONPES was the best approach to ensure cross-government buy-in. The CONPES is the “highest national planning authority and is the government’s advisory body in all aspects related to the country’s economic and social development. To achieve this, it coordinates and orients the organizations in charge of economic and social management by studying and approving documents on the development of general policies presented in the session.”4
The GEI team provided feedback to DNP on the CONPES document 40835, which is the official commitment of the Colombian government to improve its national M&E system in the period of 2022 - 2026. GEI’s recommendations included the following:
- The evaluation cycle should not only include current evaluations of policies or programs. It should also include evidence from previously conducted evaluations in Colombia - or even evaluation findings from similar programs from other countries - for the design of new programs. For this reason, DNP plans to soon open a new Analysis Unit.
- The national M&E system should include the Ministry of Finance. Ministries of Finance are key players in national M&E systems, especially if evaluation results are meant to be linked to the budgetary process. DNP included this element in the CONPES document, and it is now actively trying to be included in the budget process. This task has not been easy, but the effort is beginning to show results.
- The national M&E system should start including rapid evaluations, making the system more flexible so that it can respond to specific demands from programs and sectors in a shorter turn-around time than traditional evaluations. DNP is actively seeking to generate this type of evaluation and thus expand its offer of evaluation tools.
- The national M&E system should include concrete evaluation guidelines. Even though Colombia has sound prescriptive elements for its system, concrete guidelines for evaluations are not in place. (GEI will be supporting DNP with these guidelines.)
- To support the CONPES document, DNP, GEI, together with their partners DEval, the World Food Program and FOCELAC, suggested that Colombia set a baseline using the National Evaluation Capacities Index (INCE). INCE is a collaborative diagnostic tool that measures evaluation capacities and practices at the national level. GEI will complement the INCE with a diagnostic on the use of evaluation findings during 2023. Both results will be part of the CONPES document process.
Impact Evaluation Workshops. With the support of GEI, DNP staff and invited academics from Colombia attended an online workshop on impact evaluation, organized by GEI Associate Partner, 3ie. Workshop topics included the latest impact evaluation techniques, including big data, new double-difference evaluation methods, and methods using artificial intelligence. The DNP staff are now more prepared not only to engage in new impact evaluations but also to supervise and coordinate those evaluations. The DNP team is now working on impact evaluations for some of the new administration’s programs.
Evaluation Summary Document. The GEI team supported the development of a document that summarized the main results and recommendations of policy evaluations carried out in 2018-2022. This was a key input for the process of connecting with the incoming administration. For the first time in the history of Colombia, the evaluation system generated a non-technical document to summarize the most important findings of the evaluations for communication purposes to the general public, but especially for the new government. The DNP now has the clarity that they need to produce this type of document to increase the use of the evaluation findings. This is important not only when a new administration takes over, but also when DNP is trying to communicate the importance of the evaluation process.
Knowledge Sharing. GEI supported DNP in the organization of various events for gLOCAL Evaluation Week 2022 to share recent experiences around their goal of increasing the use of evaluations in the Colombian national M&E system.
4 “National Public Investment System of Colombia.” Regional Observatory on Planning for Developmentin Latin America and the Caribbean. Accessed April 9, 2023. https://observatorioplanificacion.cepal.org/en/planning-systems/national-public-investment-system-colombia
5 “Strengthening the Use and Institutionality of Assessments for Decision-Making in Colombia.” Document 4083 of the National Council of Economic and Social Policy Republic Of Colombia, National Planning Department. Accessed April 10, 2023. https://colaboracion.dnp.gov.co/CDT/Conpes/Econ%C3%B3micos/4083.pdf