Address by the Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele at the official opening of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) National Evaluation Seminar
Honourable guests, Good morning to all of you
I thank you for joining us at this year’s National Evaluation Seminar, which I believe is an important platform to bring together various actors in the field of monitoring and evaluation to share experiences and practices that can help us strengthen the National Evaluation System.
The past year has brought about extraordinary changes across society. Among others, the onset of Covid-19 has tested the robustness of policies and programmes and asked new questions to all of us - whether you are a minister in government or an ordinary citizen, a programme manager in a government department or institution, a young person studying or looking for opportunities, an activist in the civil society space, a business leader or employee, a development partner or a researcher. Everyone has been challenged to reflect on how to operate in a restricted environment but still achieve the results.
As the world transforms, is evaluation keeping apace? What should evaluation practitioners be focussing on in order to make a greater difference?
This year marks the tenth year since the adoption of South Africa’s first National Evaluation Policy Framework (NEPF) in November 2011. It is therefore a perfect opportunity to engage in a critical reflection on the past decade with a view to adapt the national monitoring and evaluation system to the changing environment and the period ahead.
I must state it upfront that the adoption of the NEPF in 2011 and its update in 2019 on its own is an important step because it establishes standards that we all must implement. Standards and systems like these are basic requirements of a capable, developmental and ethical state. The task ahead is how to build on the successes and make ongoing improvements.
As you would know, some of the development challenges facing our country have been there for a long time. With our democratic dispensation approaching 30 years, expectations are higher regarding where we should be as a country.
I therefore want to challenge you as evaluation practitioners to use evaluations to help the country to create the much needed changes on a number of important fronts. To do this, let me touch on four points to outline what I see to be the role of evaluation in the changing socio-economic context.
Firstly, our society has become more impatient with the pace of development. The recent social unrests are but one sign of this. Recent data produced by Statistics South Africa shows that one in three young South Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 years are not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). This challenge – of a youth cohort that is disengaged with the labour market – must propel all of us into serious action as it has direct implications on the vision of the National Development Plan of reducing unemployment by half, eradicating absolute poverty and reducing inequality.
Monitoring and evaluation must continue to give us evidence on how various programmes of government are contributing to eradicating poverty, creating employment for young people, reducing ineqaulity, and how they can be improved. Effective evaluations must help in fast-tracking problem analysis and generating policy options.
Therefore, if we are to evaluate our national evaluation system based on some of the events which have occurred in South Africa in the recent past, are we as a society of evalutation practitioners, able to cover ourselves in glory? For an example, is our national evaluation system able to account for the public funds spent on South African Airways over the years which ultimately led to its winding down? Even when it comes to state capture, effective M&E systems ought to have detected such problems in the system and generated options for rectification. If these were detected and reported, what are the challenges in the system that we must urgently address to allow M&E to flourish?
Secondly, public trust in government and institutions is volatile. The DPME’s role in this regard is to steer the national evaluation system in a way that will improve transparency and accountability, and ultimately, predictability. A fuctional evaluation system produces predictability which builds trust and unleashes the perfomance of government and all relavant stakeholders in building a capable and ethical developmental state.
People want to know whether the government is focussing on the right priorities; on whether the existing policies and programmes are being implemented effectively; on whether the resources are being appropriately utilised; on whether people’s lives are changing for the better, and in an equitable manner; among others. As professionals, you must build a national evaluations system that produces clear and credible reports which will restore public trust in the work of government.
Thirdly, to deepen democracy, we need active citizenry. The lived experiences of citizens cannot be ignored in the evaluation processes. The methods applied in conducting evaluations must be deliberately designed to bring in communities or stakeholders much closer to the actions of defining evaluative questions upfront, generating evidence and formulating improvement plans to implement the recommendations. Evaluation reports commissioned by government must be presented in ways that are accessible and encourage citizen engagement in a transparent manner.
Fourthly, the country faces tight fiscal constraints and at the same time must navigate an economic recovery. There is a greater need for evaluations that are impactful in improving efficiency with which programmes achieve the results.
In this area, I challenge you as evaluation practitioners to use appropriate tools of analysis to help government innovate and find new ways to achieve results with limited available resources. The knowledge that has been accumulated thus far in the space of evaluation must be deepened to integrate how technology can be applied practically to improve the delivery of programmes and scaling up the impact, even with constrained resources.
Government needs practical solutions on how best to eliminate the wastage that is created by duplicated activities across departments, institutions and different spheres of government. The concept of the District Development Model must be supported by relevant tools and methods to achieve greater efficiency and developmental impact.
To sum up on the four points, the practice of evaluation in the context of South Africa’s changing socio-economic landscape must, I submit, do the following -
- Proactively identify evidence gaps.
- Improve accountability and transparency.
- Sharpen our analysis of development problems in order to inform appropriate, timely responses and interventions.
- Foster effective implementation of programmes by clarifying intended results or outcomes, i.e. results based management.
- Point out what is not working that needs to be terminated or amended, be it policies, programmes, strategies, institutions, processes, etc. For this, there is need for more prospective analysis to influence design of programmes going forward.
- Fostering citizen engagements.
- Help save public resources by informing decisions on optimizing the available resources.
- Generate new knowledge and insights.
To achieve all these, we need evaluation cadres that fulfil specific qualities. Training institutions have a big responsibility to train emerging evaluators in those critical competencies.
An evaluation professional must, among other qualities, be candid, frank, robust, understanding, and innovative. They must come up with new ways of doing things. They must be organic.
We must equally be deliberate in affirming young evaluators and prepare them to take the profession to new heights.
A vibrant national evaluation system requires the DPME to continue its role as custodian of the system. There must be supportive capability for M&E in national government department. In the provincial Offices of the Premier; there must be expertise and the knowledge base to support the conduct of evaluation.
There must be genuine demand for evidence, especially among senior leaders in government. There must be stronger partnerships and collaborative work between government, research institutions and professional organisations.
This system must produce new knowledge that sets new directions and have an effective interface and influence in the evaluation practice internationally.
The system must be central to all work of government and the society at large.
In conclusion, I want to thank all of you and wish you all the best in your deliberations during this seminar.