Thursday 24 October 2013

Hopes and Misgivings

Rick Davies has shared his hopes and reserves about our Review on his Monitoring and Evaluation NEWS blog. We share Rick's hopes, and we realise our approach is ambitious. That is one reason why we are excited about it! We'll respond in more detail near the end of our scoping phase.
Right now we are super-busy coping with an  avalanche of evaluation reports. Our combination of web-search and snowballing has yielded an overwhelming response. We were worried that we might unearth too few evaluation reports. It turns out that there are many, especially from recent years and even many published ones.

Huge thanks to DFID, the Reference Group and everyone who have contributed to the avalanche by responding to or forwarding our request for evaluations!

Thursday 17 October 2013

Why qualitative comparative analysis (QCA)?

To generate realistic, practice-oriented findings and recommendations, the Review needs to differentiate between a wide range of evaluation approaches, methods and contexts. The number of existing evaluations in the field of VAWG is too small for statistical analysis to yield accurate conclusions. Yet, it would not do justice to the variety of evaluation settings if we selected only few evaluations for detailed analysis, as a conventional comparative case study would do. Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) enables us to make full use of evidence from a wide spectrum of evaluations - without jeopardizing the applicability and generalisability of our findings. QCA has been designed for “medium-N” situations, i.e. situations where there are more than a handful of cases, but too few for meaningful statistical analysis.

QCA rests on the assumption that several cause-to-effect chains coexist. It matches sets of characteristics (in our case, the characteristics of evaluations) with specific outcomes (for instance, improved results of advocacy efforts). This method helps reveal which interactions between different kinds of methodology, resources and other conditions are necessary to achieve high quality evaluations under specific sets of circumstantial factors. 

QCA is transparent and replicable: It makes it possible and necessary to explain the iterative process of categorizing and coding evaluation reports that will be included in the analysis. We will go back and forth between conceptual work (categorisations of evaluation practice) and the evidence (evaluation reports and users’ narratives on evaluation processes and outcomes). We will thereby refine the definitions of dimensions of evaluation practice, and indicators that can be used to categorise evaluations. New factors will be taken into account when they prove necessary; old differentiations between evaluation settings will be given up if they prove superfluous.

Statistical methods or “conventional” comparative case studies may include similarly iterative processes, but their movement between theoretical levels and the evidence tends to be unsystematic and implicit. This “black box” situation may lead to the omission of important explanatory factors, and makes it difficult to replicate the findings.

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. 

What evaluations do we review?

Our review focuses on evaluations that meet the following criteria:

Evaluative character
The systematic and objective assessment of an on-going or completed project, programme or policy, its design, implementation, and results in relation to specified evaluation criteria.” (OECD/DAC)
“Systematic and objective assessment” are defined in a fairly loose manner, as an organised assessment that includes efforts to reduce bias. 
Evaluation context
International development and humanitarian interventions.
Types of interventions
Interventions explicitly tackling any form of VAWG, as the main or secondary purpose.
Language of the evaluation report
Evaluations completed in 2008 or later.
Publication status
Published and unpublished evaluations.

So far, as of 16 October 2013, our mix of web-search and snowballing via e-mail contacts and the social web has yielded more than 100 evaluation reports that meet our criteria. Our scoping phase ends in late October. If you happen to have an evaluation report that meets the criteria above, please forward it to the review team (click on the link to get to our address), possibly including e-mail addresses of the evaluator and the evaluation commissioners.