Approaches to evidence synthesis in international development

List of authors: Oliver, S., Gough, D., Copestake, J.

This paper discusses the spectrum of synthesis methods available to generate, explore and test theory, their value to the field of international development and innovations required to make better use of the primary research available. It goes further than setting substantive priorities for international development impact and learning. It addresses current advances and priority gaps in the methods for research before considering the substantive and methodological direction of evidence synthesis for impact evaluation in international development, particularly as this relates to the work of CEDIL.

This scope encompasses methods for all stages in the process, from setting the question to appraising and synthesising the findings. It describes existing methods for synthesis, including how methods vary and the guidance and standards available. It then considers how well existing methods match the field of international development and the latest innovations emerging or required before providing a research agenda for advancing synthesis methods.

In particular, it argues for clearer distinctions between syntheses produced as public goods, and those tailored to specific circumstances; and strengthening knowledge systems through greater use of maps to navigate existing and missing evidence, harmonised outcomes and measures, and advances in automation technologies. Improved methods and guidance are required for synthesising formative research and investigating contextual factors. Engaging stakeholders and working across academic disciplines support the production of policy-relevant syntheses and inspire methods development.

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Approaches to evidence synthesis

Name of paper:  Approaches to evidence synthesis in international development

Download Approaches to evidence synthesis in international development

List of authors: Oliver, S., Gough, D., Copestake, J.

Gaps in Evaluation Methods for Addressing Challenging Contexts in Development

Name of paper: Gaps in Evaluation Methods for Addressing Challenging Contexts in Development

List of authors: Davey, C., Hassan, S., Bonell, C., Cartwright, N., Humphreys, M., Prost, A., Hargreaves, J.

Abstract: We start this paper by emphasizing that that we currently do not learn as much as we could from evaluations. While there are well-established methods for determining, and understanding, the effects of simpler interventions in one set of places (i.e. internal validity), it is less clear how to learn the most possible from evaluations of context-specific, complex, interventions, and apply what we learn to other contexts. This is especially important in international development where evaluations are limited by time, cost and opportunity, and where there is significant heterogeneity in the issues and contexts within which work is undertaken.

Using examples and case studies throughout, we outline several gaps in evaluation methods that if addressed, could allow us to learn more. First, we argue that an important gap is the failure to combine the analysis and interpretation of process and outcome data, and illustrate the benefits of doing so. We then highlight principles that could be adapted to guide the integration from two methodological frameworks from other research fields, and discuss Bayesian modelling as a potential method that could be employed. Second, we place this gap within an evaluation approach, which relies on developing “midlevel” theories, and using data from evaluations to test and refine these theories to allow for knowledge from one setting to be transported to others. Finally, we identify further gaps and the challenges that confront this evaluation approach.

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