Program evaluation is widely recognized in the international humanitarian sector as a means to make interventions and policies more evidence based, equitable, and accountable. Yet, little is known about the way humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) actually use evaluations.
The current qualitative evaluation employed an instrumental case study design to examine evaluation use (EU) by a humanitarian NGO based in Burkina Faso. This organization developed an evaluation strategy in 2008 to document the implementation and effects of its maternal and child healthcare user fee exemption program. Program evaluations have been undertaken ever since, and the present study examined the discourses of evaluation partners in 2009 (n = 15) and 2011 (n = 17). Semi-structured individual interviews and one group interview were conducted to identify instances of EU over time. Alkin and Taut’s (Stud Educ Eval 29:1–12, 2003) conceptualization of EU was used as the basis for thematic qualitative analyses of the different forms of EU identified by stakeholders of the exemption program in the two data collection periods.
Results demonstrated that stakeholders began to understand and value the utility of program evaluations once they were exposed to evaluation findings and then progressively used evaluations over time. EU was manifested in a variety of ways, including instrumental and conceptual use of evaluation processes and findings, as well as the persuasive use of findings. Such EU supported planning, decision-making, program practices, evaluation capacity, and advocacy.
The study sheds light on the many ways evaluations can be used by different actors in the humanitarian sector. Conceptualizations of EU are also critically discussed.