Thursday, 17 October 2013

What is the review about?

The UK Department for International Development (DFID; LINK) has commissioned a review of evaluation approaches and methods for violence against women and girls (VAWG)-related interventions (‘the Review’). Its purpose is to generate a robust understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and appropriateness of evaluation approaches and methods in interventions addressing violence against women and girls (VAWG), particularly in international development and humanitarian contexts. Review findings and recommendations are expected to support practitioners’ efforts to (i) commission or implement evaluations that yield robust findings, and (ii) assess the relevance and generalizability of the evidence gathered in evaluations. Furthermore, the Review will contribute to the growing body of literature on applied research on VAWG in development and humanitarian contexts, and to the current debate on broadening impact of evaluation designs.

Interventions tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) have characteristics that make them difficult to evaluate. VAWG takes many forms and potentially affects all stages and spaces of women’s and girls’ lives. Programmes tackling VAWG tend to combine different types of activities – such as a mix of services for VAWG survivors, public sensitisation campaigns and policy advocacy – to address multiple causes. Some of the changes pursued, for example, reduced social acceptance of VAWG, take many years and are complicated to measure. Social stigma and the risk of re-traumatising survivors make it problematic to gather data from beneficiaries. Seemingly simple indicators – for example, the numbers of clients at counselling centres, or of court cases on VAWG – lend themselves to contradictory interpretations: An increase in reported VAWG cases suggests a welcome attitude change in places where under-reporting has been a problem, while in a different context it could indicate an undesired increase in VAWG incidence. Existing reviews on ‘what works’ (e.g. Bott et al 2005, Heise 2011) have noted issues with evaluation quality, but there is no clear consensus as to what a good evaluation should look like in this field. A number of VAWG-related evaluations exhibit gaps in the validity, reliability and generalisability of their findings. 

Our review team is convinced that there is no single evaluation method likely to produce the best possible results for all VAWG-related interventions. That is why we strive to examine a broad spectrum of evaluation approaches and designs. We will use qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) to identify which combination of factors is needed to produce a good evaluation and in what context. We trust that this approach will reveal a variety of effective ways to assess interventions tackling VAWG in development and humanitarian work – as well as the pitfalls that come with different evaluation designs. Our findings will be distilled into concrete recommendations, illustrated with exemplary evaluations. Process tracing, the second pillar of our methodology, will allow us to precisely identify best practices for successful evaluations. 

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