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Evaluations in international development

Iceland regards evaluations as a critical tool for learning, informed decision-making and enhanced accountability in international development cooperation. This is clearly reflected in Iceland’s official policy for development cooperation for 2019-2023, which places high importance on a results-based approach to development and using evaluations to keep track of and demonstrating results.

Iceland‘s Evaluation Policy 2020-2023 outlines evaluation principles and criteria, in accordance with OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) criteria and quality standards for development evaluations.

Evaluations are initiated, prepared and managed by an independent Results and Evaluation Unit within the Directorate for International Affairs and Development Cooperation of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Development.  The process for evaluations is transparent and shall be independent from programme management and policy making. To ensure this independence, the unit reports directly to the Permanent Secretary of State. The cross-cutting priority issues of gender equality, human rights and environment are addressed in all evaluations.

Iceland participates in international collaboration for evaluations, within the venue of Nordic+, DAC and the COVID-19 Global Evaluation Coalition. Iceland‘s evaluations are published by the DAC Evaluation Resource Centre.

Evaluations in 2021

Following is an overview of the evaluation work conducted in 2021 by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Additionally, a review of Iceland’s COVID-19 support 2020-2021 will be published by the end of the year.

Evaluation of the Icelandic CSO Strategy was published in February 2021. The evaluation’s scope encompassed support granted to Icelandic CSOs since 2015, with special focus dedicated to the framework agreement for humanitarian interventions between the MFA and the Icelandic Red Cross (IRC). Nearly 100 development, humanitarian, and communications projects were funded 2015-2020, in addition to 19 projects funded under a framework agreement with the IRC. These efforts involved 18 Icelandic CSOs with projects in 32 countries that had a strong poverty focus and targeted marginalized and vulnerable groups to a great degree. Results indicate that the MFA made important efforts to establish a comprehensive administrative system for CSO support during the strategy period. Recommendations call for an updated strategy; a more extensive use of framework agreements that not only extend to humanitarian assistance, but also to development cooperation; increased integration of human-rights based approaches; streamlining work procedures, and enhanced coherence.

A due diligence study of those CSOs that declared interest of engaging in framework agreements with the MFA was initiated mid-year 2021. The study, which was commissioned by the MFA and conducted by a team of external consultants, was completed in early October 2021. The reports are not made public, as the study pertains to the internal financial management of the respective CSOs. Findings will be used for a feasibility assessment for CSO partner framework agreements.

An internal review of Iceland‘s participation in the United Nations Junior Professional Officer Program 2005-2015 (Icelandic) was published in May 2021. A summary of results is available in English, and Icelandic. The review was intended to generate lessons learned for a renewed participation on Iceland’s behalf. The review sought to identify the results generated, value added for Icelandic participants and the respective UN agencies.

Ten young professionals participated in the program and were hired by three UN organizations. Two former JPOs still work within the UN system, two are employed by the MFA and three work within academia, with an emphasis on international issues. Finally, three former JPOs are engaged with international work on behalf of CSOs in international development.

Findings indicate that Iceland’s participation in the JPO program has returned various kinds of results, and a point of interest is that all candidates have pursued professional careers within the fields of international affairs and development cooperation. The main conclusions indicate that it is feasible for Iceland to participate, as long as funds are available, and the participation does not exceed reasonable limits. It is suggested that participation be based on a holistic view of the human resource base within international affairs and development cooperation in Iceland, and that implementation be based on best practices. 11 recommendations are set forth where emphasis is placed on maximizing benefits derived from participation and that the MFA formulate a professional framework for program administration. This entails for the MFA to set clear objectives and seek to learn from the participation of like-minded countries, in addition to regularly evaluating the results from participating in the JPO program.

The rapid review is intended to assess the cooperation agreement between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue, Landsbjörg, on its operation of an Icelandic International Search and Rescue Squad (ICE-SAR), participation in the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) and the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC). The agreement, which expired mid-year 2021, was intended to strengthen cooperation with ICE-SAR, both in terms of cooperation for INSARAG, which is an international network of organization dedicated to urban search and rescue following disasters, of which ICE-SAR is a founding member, and in terms of UNDAC, an emergency response under the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Additionally, the agreement was intended to strengthen the MFA’s involvement in ICE-SAR’s international cooperation.

The intention of the rapid review is to provide input for the formulation of a new and renewed cooperation agreement between the MFA and ICE-SAR, in addition to highlighting the possibilities and shortcomings of the cooperation and arrangements that currently exist. The review is expected to be completed before the end of August 2021.

Over a five-year period, from 2016 to 2020, the development assistance costs associated quota refugees and asylum seekers, amounted to over ISK 7 billion. The implementation of projects and provision of services is the responsibility of various ministries and agencies. In recent years, extensive work has been carried out to improve the methodologies and processes concerning the reporting of these costs as a part of Iceland’s ODA.

In early 2021, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation proposed that an independent assessment of development cooperation costs and related services concerning quota refugees and asylum seekers be carried out in cooperation with the ministries and agencies responsible for implementation. An evaluation reference group has been appointed, which consists of representatives from the different ministries and institutions involved. The evaluation is expected to be completed in October 2021.

Iceland's projects have focused on multifaceted support for 28 primary schools and four elementary schools, and to provide full water and sanitation services in 14 villages by Lake Victoria, which serve over 20,000 people. The evaluation is a full assessment of all aspects of Iceland’s efforts in the district. The evaluation has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and difficulties in conducting fieldwork, but the evaluation is expected to be completed in the first half of 2022.

The Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA) merged with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) at the beginning of 2016, when the MFA’s Development Cooperation Office took over Iceland’s bilateral development cooperation. The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has reiterated the importance of Iceland evaluating the success of the merger. The evaluation began in the middle of the year 2021, and its design is partially based on lessons from other donor countries. The evaluation focus is divided into three main fields:

  1. Efficiency and effectiveness of development cooperation

  2. Organization and strategy

  3. Human resources and management

The first two factors are based on the goals/criteria set by the merger, the Government's recommendations on the mergers of institutions, and numerical criteria for the effectiveness of development cooperation. This part of the evaluation is carried out within the MFA and is largely based on the analysis of statistical data and other factual data. Among other things, it is based on international standards of integrity and the effectiveness of development cooperation.

The third factor deals with human resources and management, but staff’s attitude towards different aspects of the merger is also be examined. An independent, external evaluators carry out this part of the evaluation. Planned completion is in November 2021.

For Iceland's international development cooperation, various opportunities can be found in increased cooperation with the academic community. These include knowledge formation and dissemination, innovation, training, promotion, and awareness raising, in addition to maximizing the synergy of Iceland's work in the field of development cooperation. The Icelandic academic community has a wealth of expertise that can be used to work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Iceland's development goals. Additionally, it is important to engage young scholars in research and knowledge work in areas directly related to development cooperation. It is important that such cooperation is well defined, both in terms of goals and the ways in which Iceland intends to employ for the remainder of the duration of the current policy for international development cooperation.

The evaluation is geared towards mapping the involvement of the academic and university community in development cooperation, both in Iceland and to some extent in neighboring countries, with the aim of defining best practices and ways for the Ministry to work with and encourage increased participation of the academic and university community in development cooperation, and thus increasing the value of Iceland's contribution to achieving the SDGs.

The evaluation began in the second half of 2020 and is expected to be completed before the end of 2021.

Iceland adopted its third National Action Plan (NAP) in 2018 for the period 2018-2022. The evaluation assesses the results of the NAP with the aim of providing basis for the formation of a new NAP, which is to be adopted in 2022. The evaluation commences in October 2021 and will be completed by the end of the year.

In 2021, Iceland participates in two evaluation review groups for multilateral projects in which Iceland is a participant, but the evaluations will be completed in late 2021. The former is a mid-term evaluation of UN Women’s project for Promoting Women and Girls’ Effective Participation in Peace, Security and Recovery in Mozambique and the latter is a joint evaluation of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change, Phase III: 2018-2021.

Evaluations in 2020

A mid-term review of Phase II of the Mangochi Basic Services Program 2017 – 2021 was completed in June 2020. Iceland works with District authorities to improve the livelihoods of rural populations by contributing to the health, education, water and sanitation, and gender and youth sectors.  The specific objective (outcome) of the program is improved provision and use of basic services in maternal health and family planning, primary education, water and sanitation, and community development, for men and women living in rural Mangochi District.

The evaluation findings indicate that the program is already generating some impacts based on trends in impact indicators. Maternal deaths are on the decline, school drop-out rate in Standards 5 to 8 has slightly fallen, and the incidence of water borne diseases is almost non-existent due to improved access to safe water. The evaluation also finds that overall, the project is soundly managed, and that in particular that local ownership of the project has contributed to its sustainability and success.

In light of delays in implementation, however, the evaluation recommends that the program be extended by a year. Further, it recommends that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Development considers an extension of the program span for District Program-Based Approach (PBA), considering that the programs work towards a long-term impact of beneficiary livelihoods.

OECD DAC mid-term review was completed in October 2020. The review took stock of the status of Iceland’s development cooperation in light of the findings from the DAC peer review in 2017. The results were positive, and the team was encouraged by the progress made by Iceland, the ability of its system to adapt to new opportunities and take decisive action.

The team was pleased to note that Iceland has already taken steps to address 9 out of 13 of DAC’s 2017 recommendations, in particular those related to focusing development cooperation in areas where it has a comparative advantage and maintaining a poverty focus; establishing and working towards an interim target of 0.35% of GNI; and increasing the number of staff with development cooperation expertise. The next DAC peer-review will take place in 2023 which will be a crucial time after a number of important evaluations will have taken place, and will allow a more in-depth assessment of progress on implementing a number of new and forthcoming strategies, how Iceland manages for results and links to the SDGs, as well as exploring the results of new private sector instruments and country partnerships. 

Börn á leik, skóli, Afríka, Þróunarsamvinna 

Evaluation reports

UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund

IDA (International Development Association)

MOPAN Assessment of the World Bank

ESMAP (Energy Sector Management Assistance Program)

PROFISH (The Global Program on Fisheries)

Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality

Human Rights and Development Trust Fund

Iceland participated in a joint Nordic Evaluation of the Nordic Development Fund in 2019. Key findings were positive and indicated that the NDF is well-functioning and has good future potential. At the same time, the evaluation also concluded that if the NDF´s programs are to continue, its owners need to contribute more capital and the Fund´s system for monitoring, evaluation and learning to be improved.

In 2019, 18 infants out of 1,000 live births died in the neonatal period on a global level. The distribution of these deaths was uneven, with the highest neonatal mortality rates (NMR) in sub-Saharan Africa, attributing to as much as 28 deaths per 1,000 live births. One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes reducing NMR to at least 12 per 1,000 live births by 2030. Several studies have emphasised the need for interventions to improve procedures and outcomes of childbirth to lower NMR. The NMR declined in Malawi from 41 in 2000 to 23 in 2016, but the pace of progress needs to be accelerated. The objective of this study was to describe the impact and outcomes of infrastructure improvement in neonatal care services, in a district hospital in Mangochi, Malawi through Iceland‘s development cooperation efforts. Ingunn Haraldsdóttir, Bob Milanzi Faque, Þórður Þorkelsson and Geir Gunnlaugsson published the findings of their study in the Journal of Global Health Reports.

In 2019, an external, final evaluation of the Geothermal Exploration Project was conducted.  The main objective of the project was to assist countries in the East Africa Rift System (EARS) to increase their knowledge of geothermal potential by conducting reconnaissance and surface exploration studies and to build capacity and expertise in the field of geothermal development and utilization. The project was jointly funded by the MFA and the Nordic Development Fund (NDF) with a total budget of € 10 million and was implemented in collaboration with several partners, including UN Environment, the World Bank and the African Union.

Key findings of the evaluation indicate that project has clearly led to an advancement of geothermal development in partner countries and their capabilities to take further action. Relevant contributions were made, both towards individual countries achieving their overall goals, and in strengthening their organisational and human resource capacities to achieve progress. It is recommended that Iceland continues its collaboration, using a demand-led approach.

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