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Secretary-General's Peacebuilding Fund: Synthesis Review 2020 - Drawing on evaluations and evaluative exercises of initiatives supported by the Fund

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Executive Summary

At the end of the 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) commissioned a Synthesis Review of approximately sixty evaluative exercises conducted at both portfolio as well as project levels during that period. The Synthesis Review report analyzed a range of findings emerging from the evaluative exercises, combined with recommendations for PBF and the wider UN system. In the Strategic Plan 2020-2024, the Fund committed to conduct Synthesis Reviews on an annual basis. This report represents a review of the 2020 evaluative exercises.
The 2020 Synthesis Review includes the review of one portfolio evaluation, three evaluability assessments, one Strategic Review, one Thematic Review on transitional justice, one evaluative exercise, and twenty-four project evaluations.

The 2020 review examines those exercises, documents steps that PBF has taken in 2020 to follow-up on the recommendations outlined in the 2017-2019 review, and highlights the new evaluative approaches PBF experimented with in 2020 in light of the travel restrictions due to Covid-19 and other relevant developments at the PBF.

While the evidence base of the 2020 evaluative exercises was not as deep as for the 2017-2019 Synthesis Review, the 2020 evaluative exercises re-confirm the validity of the findings and recommendations of the 2017-2019 review.

This report analyzes progress made against the recommendations of the 2017-2019 Synthesis Review, as well as new findings emerging from the 2020 evaluative exercises. The analysis in this report results in the following conclusions and recommendations.

The key conclusions of the 2020 Synthesis Review of PBF-funded evaluations and evaluative exercises include the following:

  • The overall findings of the 2017-2019 Synthesis Review are reconfirmed through the 2020 evaluative exercises;

  • PBF has taken initial promising steps to act upon the findings of the last Synthesis Review of evaluations, especially through starting the strategic frameworks and five-year eligibility processes in Guatemala and the Balkans to overcome the persisting challenge of short-term funding allocations for expected long-term results;

  • In order to support these ambitions of PBF and its donors for higher-level results and impact at portfolio levels, it will be critical to support the roll-out of these strategic frameworks with adequate resources, a sustainable plan to resource country level backbone support structures for their implementation (such as PBF Secretariats), as well as an ongoing effort to support Recipient UN Organizations (RUNOs) and Recipient Non-UN Organizations (NUNOs) in their efforts to strengthen peacebuilding and design, monitoring, and evaluation capacities and processes.

  • The impact evaluation partnership with the Government of Germany is a promising step towards complementing PBF’s efforts to enhance the ability to show results at portfolio levels: starting in 2021, PBF will partner with Germany to launch a special project to test impact evaluation approaches within a number of PBF-funded initiatives.

  • PBF has demonstrated flexibility in its DM&E approach, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic to experiment with remote DM&E support;

  • The Thematic Review on Transitional Justice in 2020 was the first of its kind since 2014. It demonstrates the usefulness of such an exercise to review broader results of PBF in one programmatic area;

  • Even though several UN agencies, and PBF funding recipients, are strengthening their capacities and staff skills in conflict analysis, peacebuilding programming design and conflict sensitivity, a major gap remains between PBF’s ambition and related expectations from PBF’s donors and what is feasible operationally in country based on existing capacities;

  • While more UNCTs (UN Country Teams), RUNOs and NUNOs now conduct conflict analysis more systematically, conflict-sensitivity and a clearer focus on the relationships between gender and conflict (“gender-sensitive conflict analysis”) remain gaps in PBF-funded portfolios that should be addressed;

  • The 2020 evaluative exercises continue to highlight the need for ongoing exploration of funding local and national civil society organizations directly.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PBF

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT OF PBF

  • Facilitate a more proactive process of learning. Many of the findings that emerge from the evaluative exercises can only be acted upon as joint efforts between PBF, RUNOs and NUNOs. PBF is well placed to act as a convener and facilitator to engage UNCTs and focal points in HQ units in a more active dialogue regarding the learnings and findings from the Synthesis Reviews, the Thematic Review(s) and other relevant reviews as appropriate, and to act upon the findings that lie within the responsibility of specific stakeholders. Facilitating a joint process between PBF and RUNOs and NUNOs about such findings will support a collective approach to learning and improving practice. The DFID 2020 Program Completion Review recommends that the ‘community of practice’ model for PBF recipients at the country-level be replicated at the HQ level to bring together conflict and peace teams across UN agencies. This is one avenue the PBF could use in this regard, leveraging and expanding the use of existing mechanisms like the Peacebuilding Contact Group at the HQ level.

  • Formalize the new five-year eligibility process and strategic framework processes, while allowing necessary flexibility based on specific country conditions. Learning from the two pilot processes for the development of strategic frameworks in Guatemala and the Balkans should inform a formalization of these two experimental processes, including:

    • Developing a clear plan on who is responsible for supporting the strategic framework implementation, including DM&E frameworks, and aligning necessary capacities, skill sets and resources behind those structures;

    • Developing standard processes and methodologies that can be adapted/replicated, such as concept notes and sample agendas for strategic framework priority development workshops, or terms of reference, while allowing necessary flexibility to adapt to each context.

  • Conduct additional Thematic Reviews: The Thematic Review on Transitional Justice review proved useful for showing higher-level results and learnings in one key area of PBF investment. Therefore,
    PBF should invest in more Thematic Reviews of program areas in which the PBF has a clear niche and that are innovative, such as UN transition support and cross-border peacebuilding, when the timing seems right for those. There might also be ways to connect this ambition for higher-level learning and results in specific areas to the impact project funded by the Government of Germany.
    Producing solid Thematic Reviews will require dedicated resources and staffing to produce quality results.

  • Leverage the impact project with the Government of Germany to the best possible extent through:

    • Feeding the emerging learning from this new partnership into conversations focused on learning about peacebuilding with RUNOs and NUNOs (contributes to Recommendation I above);

    • Informing the processes related to the five-year eligibility and strategic frameworks at country level (contributes to Recommendation II above).

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PBF’s DM&E (DESIGN, MONITORING, AND EVALUATION) FUNCTION

  • Conduct Synthesis Review of Evaluations and Evaluative Exercises only every two years. While this 2020 Synthesis Review was able to document some interesting new insights and nuances, especially in light of new developments in follow-up to the 2017-2019 recommendations, its overall evidence base was limited, compared to the 2017-2019 review. Delaying the next Synthesis Review until 2022 will make it possible to capture insights from key processes that are currently underway, the implementation of five-year eligibility and strategic frameworks in Guatemala and the Balkans (and possibly others by then), and also assess some insights emerging from the impact evaluation project.
    Waiting two years will provide a richer set of documents for analysis beyond project specific evaluations.

  • Develop clear DM&E processes in support of strategic frameworks and five-year eligibility: The promising new strategic frameworks and five-year eligibility plans will only be as effective and impactful as the related DM&E frameworks supporting their implementation. This will require independent resources and staffing for PBF Secretariats or other country-level backbone support mechanisms that guide this function strategically for PBF portfolios. These functions need to be strong substantively (peacebuilding program design, M&E, facilitating and convening RUNOs and NUNOs), and there should be clear agreements with RCs and RC offices regarding the importance of these functions, in order to demonstrate results at PBF portfolio levels.

  • Prioritize the ‘D’ in DM&E. Putting more emphasis on the ‘D’ (program design) and not only monitoring and evaluation is still one of the most important recommendations from the 2017-2019 capacities at UNCT level, or by applying more flexibility to existing DM&E mechanisms. For example, rather than investing resources in mandatory evaluability assessments or in evaluations for each project, investing those resources in more in-depth processes of program design and program design quality assurance might lead to better results. Allowing longer eligibility and funding cycles will support this effort if PBF adapts its approval timeframes (contributes to recommendations on five-year eligibility and strategic frameworks, as well as enhanced DM&E processes).

  • Develop PBF guidance and requirements in relation to conflict-sensitivity. Making conflict-sensitivity a clearer requirement will have the best chances of succeeding if it is embedded within explicit mechanisms for peacebuilding program adaptation and learning. Given the highlighted need in this review to integrate peace and conflict and gender dynamics more directly, an integrated package of guidance and support for conflict-and gender sensitivity could be considered.