We all rely on good evaluation

It has been estimated that the New Zealand Government spends $880 million a year on policy advice (Hansard Vol 665 p.12883). It had better be good advice then! The quality of that advice directly impacts on our lives, not to mention our shared investment, as taxpayers, in $70 billion (or so’s) worth of public services each year.

Good policy advice requires critical thinking and good evidence – including evidence about how well current policies are performing.

For example, around two-thirds of our mega-investment goes into welfare, health and education. Not just benefits, hospitals and schools – a whole lot of other stuff too. Myriad initiatives aimed at keeping people off benefits, out of hospital, at school. Programmes aimed at giving people a fair go in life if their circumstances place them at a disadvantage. Planning teams working out how much of what to provide where. Policy teams designing new initiatives. Workforce development programmes to upskill the people doing all those things. And much, much more.

How do we know if any of this is any good? Which bits actually work, and which are an utter waste of our money? Which bits show potential, and how they might be made to work better?

That’s where evaluation comes in. It answers those sorts of questions. And answering those questions is complicated, because it cuts right to what sort of society we want to live in. It’s about values.

Like any complicated job, evaluation can be done well or poorly. So how do we know if an evaluation is any good? Are we getting valid information on how our investments are performing?

There’s a bunch of us around the world who take this question pretty seriously. Here in NZ, ANZEA has developed a framework of evaluation competencies that are relevant and appropriate to Aotearoa, to inform and guide sound and ethical evaluation practice. Work is now under way to  develop evaluation standards for Aotearoa, in partnership with the Social Policy Research and Evaluation Unit (SuPERU) of the Families Commission.

We hope these frameworks will be an impetus to robust discussion and debate about what a ‘good’ evaluation – and evaluator – looks like in this country.

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone and do not represent the official position of any organisation or group.


March, 2011 / Updated March 2014

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