by AES Relationships Committee
The changing context
The global scale and speed of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes. The pathway to recovery and management of COVID-19 is expected to be complex and challenging, with significant long-term implications for individuals, organisations, governments and the country.
The coordinated national response in Australia has so far been successful because the best available data and evidence has significantly influenced decision-making. The evidence-informed approach that has served us well to-date remains equally critical going forward.
During the pandemic, many public sector initiatives and supports have been designed, adjusted or expanded to assist individuals, households and businesses to survive and adapt. Some services have been interrupted or halted. As restrictions lift, consideration will need to be given to which adjustments are maintained.
The AES considers that sound data collection and analysis should be built into the establishment of any new or adapted initiatives to maximise the value of evaluation. Evaluation can also support the development of new initiatives and support service redesign activities.
Evidence and evaluation play an important role
Evaluation – and evaluative thinking – remains central in offering systematic review of new and changing initiatives, and to pre-empt potential unintended consequences. It can be undertaken across the policy and program life-cycle to:
- Ensure clarity of purpose, objectives and alignment of values
- Assist with monitoring progress and meeting reporting requirements
- Identify immediate improvement opportunities
- Understand impact and its drivers, including for different cohorts
- Understand how design and operation influence impact in different contexts
- Support good governance, sound decision-making and smart resource allocation
- Promote knowledge transfer and capability development.
Evaluators are adapting their approaches
To effectively deliver on existing work, evaluators have adapted their approaches to meet physical distancing requirements. Although service clients and stakeholders may feel harder to reach, digital platforms are enabling connections across traditional geographic and social boundaries.
Evaluators are able to continue their work by:
- Reassessing objectives: Updating evaluation objectives to ensure they remain useful
- Shifting phasing: Changing delivery timeframes and milestones
- Adapting design: Shifting design, methods and data collection to achieve the evaluation’s objectives
- Appropriately engaging stakeholders: Considering how COVID-19 is affecting key stakeholders and adapting engagement methods appropriately
- Contextualising findings: Interpreting data and forming findings based on contextualised information across different phases of the crisis (e.g. the response and recovery phases).
The AES recommends that monitoring, evaluation and evidence continue wherever possible to support post-pandemic recovery and review.
This statement has been prepared by AES members for AES members to support discussions about why evaluation has particular relevance and value during the pandemic, and how evaluations may be adapted.