Evaluation – a key strategic lever to make sure that every project and programme makes climate its business
This article was co-created by IPASA and the SAMEA-led team responsible for developing a working definition of an environmental sustainability criterion for evaluation in South Africa.
Contributors: Fia van Rensburg (IPASA Knowledge Manager), Odirilwe Selomane (Centre for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch University), Tracy Bailey (Independent researcher), Ian Goldman (SAMEA Board member).
IPASA’s climate initiative
IPASA’s work on climate change and philanthropy during 2021 was funded by The Lewis Foundation and the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, and was supported by the African Climate Foundation. It culminated in the development of a draft Climate Change Toolkit and Resource Pack for Funders. This follows a three-part webinar series on the extent and implications of climate change, and what philanthropists can do to respond to the challenges. The IPASA toolkit will help funders who want to integrate climate issues in their grant making, operations or investments. A climate lens can be applied to any focus area, and it can start with small steps.
The relevance and urgency of this work was confirmed in the IPASA Symposium that took place in November 2021. Various speakers emphasised the importance for funders to become proactive about climate change. Jenny Hodgson (Executive Director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations) warned that “Covid-19 was a dress rehearsal for climate change”, and Alan Wallis (Strategic Advisor, African Climate Foundation) emphasised that while funders could not plan for Covid, they can, and should, plan for climate change: “The opportunities are endless. We can leapfrog. Although the problem seems huge and insurmountable, we can act.” Alan explained that it was essential to change the perception that climate is a ‘side issue’ to a perception that climate is a central issue. The importance of appropriate and innovative climate responses was further emphasised by a panel of young climate activists who voiced their frustration with the lack of action on climate justice, and with ideas that it is only of concern an elite group: “We must get rid of the myth that it is only for angry black people, and rich white people. It is not an elitist thing. Climate change is something we live with every day.”
SAMEA’s focus on the systemic crises of climate change and ecosystems health
Parallel to IPASA’s initiatives, the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA) has decided to focus on three key priorities in 2021, one of which is “applying monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to address the systemic crises South Africa faces”. Under this priority are the dual crises of climate change and ecosystems degradation. The October 2021 SAMEA Evaluation Hackathon saw the formation of a team comprising representatives from government, academia, environmental agencies, and civil society. The team has worked on the development of an evaluation criterion focused on climate and ecosystems health, as well as an accompanying set of guidelines to support the application of this criterion in the commissioning and implementation of evaluations. The aim is to have the new criterion incorporated into the evaluation of all interventions in South Africa r to ensure that the actual or potential contribution of projects or programmes to wider environmental sustainability are taken into account.
SAMEA is aiming to have a draft criteria and guideline ready for public use in early 2022. The guideline will be suitable for use by various role players in the development sector, including government, business, and civil society. Once developed, the guideline will be peer-reviewed and shared with SAMEA Hackathon partners for comment, before being piloted in South Africa. Hackathon partners are exploring opportunities to pilot the criterion with different organisations locally, and the application of the standard will also be ‘tested out’ with those practicing Blue Marble Evaluation. This will be followed by the development of training programmes for evaluators and M&E practitioners.
Why is this important?
This initiative takes introduces environmental sustainability issues (specifically climate and ecosystem health) into M&E, going much further than approaches concentrating on M&E of climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives. While Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) evaluation is important, the evaluation community is becoming increasingly aware that all evaluators and evaluations must consider climate and ecosystem health issues, not only in a narrow focus limited to environmental sector projects, but also in terms of how environmental and sustainability issues intersect with how all facets of society works. A parallel SAMEA initiative is developing a criteria and guideline for applying equity considerations in all evaluations.
What can philanthropy do to fast-track climate considerations in programmes and projects?
International philanthropic funders are already playing a key role in thought leadership and initiatives that create an enabling environment for the integration of environmental sustainability and climate change in in evaluation. The Blue Marble Evaluation initiative is an example – its pilot grant came from the Faster Forward Fund in partnership with World Savvy, and it receives continued support from the McKnight Foundation. According to Jane Maland of the McKnight Foundation, “at its core, Blue Marble is…both adaptive and developmental. And, crucially, by being principles based, it encourages and enables us to think in transformational ways at a time when we need to think in unprecedented ways. Now, as philanthropies seek to address grand challenges – climate change, equity, healthy cities, food security, to name a few – Blue Marble Evaluation provides us with an important way of thinking, doing and being.”
On a more practical level, funders in South Africa can engage with the SAMEA-led initiative on a climate ecosystems health criterion through three key things:
- Participating in, and funding pilot projects to test application of the criteria and guidelines, and by funding the development of training materials in how to apply them.
- Participating in, supporting reflection, and learning initiatives that emanate from the piloting process and developing knowledge products that can assist civil society with the implementation of the criterion.
- Requesting that all their partners (grantees) should start using this criterion and the accompanying guidelines in project/programme evaluations and future project/programme design.
Lindy Rodwell, the Lewis Foundation’s Relationship, Director encouraged the philanthropy community at the 2021 IPASA Symposium to take urgent action on this important matter: “We have to accept that there is a global catastrophe coming with climate change. It affects all of us. Unless you apply a climate lens to your strategic thinking, your grantees, your operations, and your investments you are going to be caught off guard and face significant risk…. We need to ‘shake the tree’ in the philanthropy arena…philanthropists need to get out of their ivory towers and engage with people out there – in everything we do, there has to be a climate component. “