In January, IYF welcomed Emmanuel Jimenez, PhD, to its Board of Directors. Dr. Jimenez is Executive Director of the International Initiative on Impact Evaluation (3ie). Previously, he worked for 30 years at the World Bank Group, where he directed the operational program in human development in its Asia regions, and served as lead author of the 2007 World Development Report, “Development & the Next Generation.” Below he shares his thoughts on the critical role of evaluation in achieving IYF’s mission.

What excites you most about joining the IYF Board?

I’m most excited about being part of IYF’s mission and its pursuit of innovative ideas to promote youth development, especially in the area of employability. When asked by the World Bank to lead the World Development Report on youth, I believed wholeheartedly that ensuring that youth have access to opportunities to grow and develop their skills is critical—both for them as individuals and for their countries as a whole. 

What is the focus of the International Initiative on Impact Evaluation?

3ie was formed seven years ago after a report was produced by leading thinkers connected to Center for Global Development that asked, “when will we ever learn?” After 65 years of development experience, the number of studies that passed scientific muster—and that actually demonstrated what works—was relatively small. 3ie was created to increase the supply of that evidence. We fund studies that rigorously examine the impact of development interventions, and make sure that such evidence is not just published in academic journals, but is used in decision-making by policy-makers, NGOs, and others. 

You led the creation of the World Bank’s 2007 World Development Report (WDR) focused on youth. In retrospect, what do you feel was the report’s greatest contribution and/or impact?

The report’s framework for looking at the challenges of youth as they undergo transitions to adulthood—to increasingly higher levels of schooling; from school to work; from being part of to being the head of families; to being community and national citizens—has been a useful lens to examine the adequacy of policies that affect youth. The report also reinforced the need for youth interventions to be based on rigorous evidence. The idea of developing young people’s ability to transition smoothly into adulthood—and especially into employment—is one that’s gotten a lot of traction, especially since the Arab Spring.

What are some of the core challenges that exist in evaluating youth development programs?

Evaluation is challenging whether you’re talking about youth programs or other development priorities. One challenge is to make sure that when you see change over time, it’s because of the intervention, and not something else. Another challenge is that a lot of youth development programs fall between silos in government: some are in the province of the labor ministry, some in education, some in social welfare. Without coordination, it’s hard for lessons to be learned. Many donors would like more of these evaluations, but lack the staff capacity to develop them. Some organizations can be resistant to evaluation, with a negative result perceived as something that could derail their advocacy efforts. The kind of evaluations that are needed are not those that ask “yes/no—should you have this program or not,” but “how” does a program work, and under what circumstances.

What promising trends are emerging?

Funders and grassroots groups in both developed and developing countries are beginning to ask the right questions. It’s not just about how you spent the money, but what are the effects of that financing. What are the needles you’re monitoring and how are they moving? The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the product of this increased attention on outcomes. As budgets get tightened, there’s more evaluation going on; yet there are challenges as well. One is the relatively weak capacity in the poorest countries, as well as the capacity to use the evidence once available. 

IYF’s work is increasingly focused on influencing larger systems and policies impacting youth around the world. What role does evaluation play in these efforts?

Policy change is more likely to succeed if the changes being proposed are well informed by past lessons. Those past lessons need to be based on solid evidence of what has worked and what hasn’t. Otherwise, we’re in danger of making the same mistakes. I’ve been in the development field for over 30 years and have seen that happen often enough. We need to seize the opportunity to make sure we’re learning more systematically, and then sharing that learning 

What do you most hope to contribute as an IYF board member?

As IYF moves increasingly into the policy space, my role will be to see how it can ensure that the proposed policies are well grounded in the evidence base. Another thing I bring is a mix of development experiences—both in research related to youth in education and health, and the implementation of policies and programs in the social sectors. Finally, I’d like to see that the ideas that we started to develop in the WDR continue to take root and can be refined through the experiences of organizations like IYF.