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Back | Programme Area: Research-Related Activities

Uncovering the Politics of "Evidence"

Date: 13 Mar 2013

  • Time: 13:00-14:30
  • Location: D19, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Project Title: UNRISD Seminar Series

Uncovering the Politics of
This event has already taken place. You can download the podcast of the seminar (79 MB) or watch the video.

Hard evidence, rigorous data, tangible results, value for money – all are tantalizing terms promising clarity for the international development sector. Yet behind these terms lie definitional tussles, vested interests and contested world views that Rosalind Eyben’s presentation aims to uncover in order to make the results-and-evidence agenda a legitimate subject of debate. And, in doing so, encourage development practitioners to devise strategies to expand the politico-bureaucratic space for flexible and creative support of locally generated and transformative change.

Arguing the importance of being critically aware of how power sustains and reinforces the development sector’s results-and-evidence discourses, Eyben will explain how the resulting tools and methods, such as logical framework analyses and theories of change, shape our working practices. These tools and methods can have perverse consequences because of their hidden and invisible power to determine what knowledge counts. Hierarchical ways of working (in both donor and recipient organizations) block communication and dialogue.

Room for manoeuvre

However, just as tools and methods shape practice, so context-specific practice shapes the tools. Their power is neither uniform nor constant. There is room for manoeuvre.

Exploring the politics of accountability and the sector’s internal dynamics, Eyben asks what the opportunities are for changing the agenda. How can the contradictions be exploited which arise from political pressure to appear to be in control in a world of uncertainty and surprises?

Which knowledge counts?

By disentangling the historical threads and origins of results-based management and evidence-based policy/programming, a strong family resemblance is discovered. The discourses share a common epistemology, or history of ideas and concepts. Both assume that evidence pertains only to facts which can be verified and measured and that other types of knowledge have no value; both have a particular understanding of causality, efficiency and accountability. How and why have these discourses influenced the development sector, and who is promoting them in which contexts? What has been the effect on the sector’s priorities and practices, and particularly on its capacity to support transformative social development?


Rosalind Eyben is a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, where she is a member of the Participation, Power and Social Change team. She is one of the co-convenors of the Big Push Forward which aims to create space for discussion and debate on appropriate approaches for assessing transformative development processes.


The presentation is based on a paper which was presented at a conference entitled "The Politics of Evidence" convened by The Big Push Forward group on 23-24 April in Brighton, UK. To download the presentation and the paper, use the grey box on the top of this page.


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