An article on impact evaluations, recently released by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the November 2014 IDS Bulletin issue, addresses the question of how impact evaluations are becoming more and more institutionalized in international development.

The article, authored by Jos Vaessen, Oscar A. Garcia and Juha Uitto, focuses on the common challenges in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) functions in the United Nations system related to the increasing need for evidence on impact. The efforts to adopt a results-based management approach in work programme and budgeting have sparked an increased interest in the effects of policy interventions, thus requiring United Nations organizations to institutionalize impact evaluations and to make M&E functions more "impact-oriented".

The authors explain how, in order to strengthen the evidence base on impact, promoting the practice of IEs is not the only way: "strong impact-oriented M&E functions both provide evidence on the performance of the organization (and progress towards impact) and allow for evaluation units to design and conduct impact evaluations based on solid data and on those parts of the portfolio where they are most needed and useful", they conclude.

This pathway of using impact-oriented M&E systems rather than deciding to go for fully-fledged impact evaluations is primarily due to resource constraints, which inhibit the widespread and cost-effective use of impact evaluations, posing challenges to their full institutionalization. Therefore, the authors conclude, strengthening the "impact-orientedness" of existing M&E functions may turn to be the best choice to bolster the evidence base on impact.

Jos Vaessen is Principal Evaluation Specialist at the Internal Oversight Service of UNESCO and lecturer at Maastricht University; Oscar A. Garcia is the current Director of the Independent Office of Evaluation of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), formerly Head of the advisory services at the United Nations Environment Programme, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics; Juha Uitto is Director, Independent Evaluation Office of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

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