The scope and the importance of program evaluation are evolving rapidly, especially in light of increased pressure to present evidence that development is in fact working. The Canadian Evaluation Society (CES) is playing its part in professionalizing the field by offering development evaluators with the unique opportunity to earn CE designation, the first of its kind, following a rigorous screening and application process (http://www.evaluationcanada.ca/ce).
This important move, which is aimed at paying careful attention to the capacity and professionalization of those who are supposed to “evaluate” development efforts, is most welcome and long overdue since the beginning of official development assistance over 60 years ago. A number of other parallel efforts at promoting and professionalizing the field of development evaluation include the following: the establishment of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) in 2001 and along with its several regional versions, the establishment of the International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS), the increasing number of national societies and professional associations of evaluators (more than 100 in existence with the most recent ones being the Morocco Evaluation Association and the Albanian Society of Program Evaluation), the declaration of the year 2015 as the “International Year of Evaluation” proposed by EvalPartners and endorsed by much of the development community including various UN agencies (http://www.mymande.org/evalpartners), and last but not least, the recent popularity of CE designation.
The credentialing program was launched in response to increasing interest among CES members in quality assurance. As a result, the CE designation is designed to define, recognize and promote the practice of ethical, high quality and competent evaluation across the globe. In a nutshell, the designation is a way to declare that the holder has provided evidence of the education and experience required to be a “competent” evaluator. Although the process of offering the professional designation at CES began in 2006 when the CES National Council put out a Request for Proposal for the development of an action plan for evaluator credentialing, the actual program was not launched until 2010. Since then, according to CES’s roster of Credentialed Evaluators, nearly 300 evaluators have obtained the CE designation (http://old.evaluationcanada.ca/site.cgi?en:50:2).
Although the process of becoming a CE may seem cumbersome at first sight, it is really quite straightforward for evaluators with the right mix of qualifications (http://www.evaluationcanada.ca/candidates). To be able to apply, one needs to be a member of both CES and IDEAS. You must also have graduate level degree and at least two years of full-time equivalent experience related to evaluation, within the last ten years. In my experience, the most important and also the most time-consuming step in applying for CE designation is to demonstrate education or professional experience relating to at least 70% of 49 competencies, grouped under five competency domains, including 1) Reflective Practice, 2) Technical Practice, 3) Situational Practice, 4) Management Practice and 5) Interpersonal Practice.
For the evaluators, the designation should help facilitate employment and contractual processes by signaling to employers the candidate’s commitment to and competence in program evaluation. The designation should especially help employers and evaluation clients by increasing their confidence in the candidate’s continued professional development, because the CE designation comes with an expiration date unless the holder demonstrates that s/he has kept up to date with the dynamic field of development evaluation by investing in at least 40-credit hours of continuing education over a three-year period. Failure to provide this evidence could result in losing the CE designation.
Similarly, the CE designation should help the broader field of international development by first recognizing the need for specialized training in ascertaining what works and what doesn’t work and then by relying on expert opinion for carrying out methodologically rigorous and contextually appropriate evaluations. A key condition for the effectiveness of the CE designation in development work is that the development community broadly, and donor agencies in particular, support, promote and make use of CE designation in all their programs and processes. Although the CE designation is well on its way to find its rightful space within the broader development context, this is just the first steps towards professionalizing the field at the global scale; much more work needs to be done to promote and ensure ethical practice and quality standards in development program evaluation.