Independent Evaluation in the GEF Partnership: Promoting Accountability and Learning

October 20, 2016

By Juha I. Uitto, Director, Independent Evaluation Office of the GEF

Evaluation plays a central role in the GEF partnership. The purpose is to promote accountability for the achievement of GEF objectives through the assessment of results, effectiveness, processes, and performance of the partners involved in GEF activities, in particular for their contribution to global environmental benefits. Equally importantly, evaluation promotes learning and knowledge sharing regarding the results and lessons from GEF operations in order to further improve performance.[i] Although learning and accountability have been important features in the GEF since its establishment 25 years ago, the evaluation function has evolved significantly over the years. Initially, there was a small M&E Unit located within the GEF Secretariat reporting to the CEO. Then a separate Evaluation Office was established by the decision of the GEF Council in July 2003, no longer reporting to the management but directly to the Council. Finally, in 2013, the office was formally renamed the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) codifying its role as an independent body within the GEF partnership. The IEO sets the minimum M&E requirements and ensures oversight of the quality of M&E at the program and projects levels with the GEF Secretariat and Agencies, and facilitates cooperation on evaluation issues within the partnership and beyond. Most importantly, the IEO is charged with conducting independent evaluations that involve sets of projects and programs from multiple GEF Agencies, as well as on crosscutting themes.


The evaluations we conduct cover a wide range of topics. IEO produces an Annual Performance Review (APR) that covers the entire GEF portfolio of now over 1,000 projects. The APR looks into the results and performance trends by focal area, region and GEF Agency, largely based on a thorough analysis of project terminal evaluation reports. The office has hitherto conducted 23 country portfolio evaluations in Africa, the Middle East and North Africa region, Asia, Pacific Islands, and Latin America and the Caribbean. There are numerous evaluations covering thematic areas in which the GEF works, as well as institutional and process issues. The office is constantly refining its approaches and methodologies working closely with leading research and evaluation institutions from around the world in order to ensure that our work adheres to the best state-of-the-art standards. A recent impact evaluation pioneered the use of geospatial technologies, such as remote sensing and geographical information science, as well as a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to gauge the GEF impacts to conserving biodiversity through its support to protected areas and protected area systems globally.[ii] The evaluation of the GEF civil society network utilized social network analysis in its conduct.[iii] Such approaches are now mainstreamed into all IEO evaluations.


Central to the role of IEO is to conduct periodic comprehensive evaluations of the GEF in order to feed information to the replenishment processes regarding the GEF performance and results, governance of the partnership, and lessons on what has worked and what the challenges are. The fifth overall performance study[iv] completed prior to the sixth replenishment concluded that the GEF intervention logic is catalytic and largely successful in achieving impact over time, not only at the national level but also regionally and globally. Overall, individual GEF projects across the board deliver excellent outcomes. These positive findings have been reconfirmed since then by the APRs: on the average, 81% of GEF projects have ratings in the satisfactory or higher range.[v] Yet, despite these project level successes, the global environmental trends continue to decline, largely due to the fact that economic flows towards environmentally harmful practices, including subsidies to fossil fuels and unsustainable agriculture, overshadow the investments in the global environment by orders of magnitude.


If the purpose of evaluation is learning and program improvement, how do we ensure that evaluation findings influence policy at the GEF? There are helpful structures and processes in place. The fact that the IEO is independent enhances the credibility of our evaluations and allows us to provide independent feedback to the GEF partners. Furthermore, the GEF requires that every evaluation must have a management response and the Council approves the plan on how evaluation recommendations are to be addressed by the GEF Secretariat and the partners. The cases where evaluation influence on GEF policy is clearest often involve process-oriented matters. Examples of how evaluations have influenced GEF policy in this regard include revisions to the results-based management system and changes in co-financing policy at the central level. Country portfolio evaluations contributed to new minimum requirements for the involvement of GEF country focal points in M&E and changes in the resource allocation system. At the project level, APR findings led to improvements in the quality of terminal evaluations and more attention to projects at risk. However, also the impact evaluations have been welcomed by the Council and the partners, and have helped to clarify how the GEF reaches and measures its global environmental goals. Another case would pertain to gender mainstreaming. The fourth overall performance study of the GEF[vi] in 2010 raised the issue that social and gender dimensions were not systematically addressed in GEF projects, which led to the development and approval of the gender action plan for the GEF.


Like in all fields, evaluation in the GEF provides primarily technical inputs to decisions on how to best achieve the goal of benefiting the global commons. Policy-making obviously relies on a number of factors of which evaluative evidence is one. Some clear lessons can be drawn from the GEF experience on the conditions that make evaluations influential. First of all, evaluations must answer questions that are of interest to the stakeholders, including the Council and the partners. Therefore, while we conduct our evaluations in a fully independent manner, we also consult with the stakeholders when setting the evaluation agenda. Secondly, evaluations must be timely to feed into decision-making processes.


We are now in midst of the sixth comprehensive evaluation of the GEF,[vii] which is aimed to provide solid evaluative evidence for the seventh replenishment negotiations starting in 2017. The purpose is to assess the extent to which the GEF is achieving its objectives and to identify potential improvements for going forward. The evaluation will analyze GEF performance, results, partnerships, institutional structure and governance in the context of the rapidly changing environmental finance landscape. It will hone in on a number of strategic questions, such as: What are the comparative advantages of the GEF in the climate change arena following the Paris Agreements of 2015? How could the GEF enhance its partnerships with the private sector and civil society organizations? What are the lessons from programmatic approaches utilized by the GEF and whether the Integrated Approach Pilots established under the GEF6 – addressing key issues such as taking deforestation out of commodity supply chains, sustainability of cities, and food security in Africa – are providing truly new ways for the GEF to address the drivers of global environmental change? These are challenging issues to tackle, but providing evidence from the field is essential for the continued relevance and future success of the GEF. The IEO will rise to the challenge.


[i] The GEF Monitoring and Evaluation Policy. Evaluation Document No. 4. GEF EO 2010.

[ii] Impact Evaluation of GEF Support to Protected Areas and Protected Area Systems. GEF IEO 2015.

[iii] Evaluation of the GEF Civil Society Network. GEF IEO 2016.

[iv] Fifth Overall Performance Study of the GEF: At Crossroads for Higher Impact. GEF IEO 2014.

[v] Annual Performance Report 2015. GEF IEO 2016.

[vi] Fourth Overall Performance Study of the GEF: Progress toward Impact. GEF EO 2010.

[vii] Sixth Comprehensive Evaluation of the GEF: Approach Paper. GEF IEO 2016. GEF/ME/C.50/07.