The crucial shift to a more risk-aware and ecologically sound approach to policy, strategy, and programming can be aided by evaluation. Understanding and acting on one’s stake in the survival of people and the planet is what the phrase “skin in the game” refers to.
The mainstreaming of intended and unintended environmental consequences in evaluations will require action on multiple fronts, including:
- The recognition, understanding, and capacity of evaluators to pursue it,
- The demand by those who commission evaluations to include it, and
- An enabling environment supporting it, encompassing norms, standards, policy, procedures, guidance, incentives, capacity development, etc.
The increasing interest in and adoption of complexity and systems analysis in evaluation is a crucial component for mainstreaming environmental sustainability. In a larger context that encompasses the interactions and interdependencies between human and natural systems, complex systems analysis places the interventions being evaluated. Developmental evaluation, realist evaluation, and other evaluation methods that draw on conventional, non-Western, and indigenous viewpoints that emphasize the inherent interconnectedness and inclusivity between the non-human and human worlds are just a few examples of the many different ways that complex systems analysis can be applied (e.g., EvalIndigenous). They may be summative, formative, or in the moment.
We must think outside the box when evaluating and looking beyond the specific projects and programs’ intended outcomes. Single, well-defined projects and programs offered by lone agencies and supported by lone donors have predominated most interventions in sustainable development. The typical approach to these intervention strategies is to treat them like closed systems or boxes with linear theories of change and predefined outcomes, ignoring the larger context and intricate relationships and interdependencies within which they are unpacked.
Narrow fragmented approaches run the risk of missing significant spillovers and adverse effects, whether these are detrimental or beneficial, and they do not connect the dots needed for more environmentally (and socially) responsible development. Discrete interventions, such as projects and programs, should be planned, followed, and assessed with consideration for how they interact with and have an effect on the larger ecosystem in which they are implemented, just like the SDGs themselves.
This includes the other intervention strategies that support the economic, social, and environmental foundations of sustainable development. Such a broadened definition of “coherence” is predicated on the idea that for interventions to be sustainable, they must be compatible with other development-related initiatives.
Some examples of these types of evaluations include Blue Marble Evaluation (BME), footprint evaluation, and the UNEG Working Group on Integrating Environmental and Social Impact into Evaluations