2021 Evaluation of Aid

Relevant? Almost Always: Relevance in Development Cooperation

Joel Samoff

Evaluations of development cooperation interventions are almost always based on the evaluation criteria developed by OECD/DAC, one of which relates to the relevance of an intervention. One observation related to the evaluation criteria “relevance” is that practically all evaluations within Swedish development cooperation find that the intervention under evaluation is relevant. This is not necessarily a problem in and of itself, though it limits the usefulness and utility of the criterion if the results are always the same.

Against this background, this working paper explores the use of the relevance criterion in evaluations of Swedish development cooperation. It critically investigates a number of recently conducted evaluations and a selection of other documents. Based on this investigation, it presents a number of suggestions for how the relevance criterion can be improved.

This paper is meant to contribute to a discussion about the use of the relevance criterion and serve as a reference for evaluators and commissioners, with the goal of creating more nuanced evaluations of the relevance of interventions in the future.

The report was presented during the seminar Relevant? Almost Always: The Role of the Relevance Criterion in Development M&E.


The report author suggests three possible ways of improving the use of the relevance criterion:

  1. Remove the criterion. One possible solution is to remove the relevance criterion as a prioritised area for all evaluations, and instead use it more selectively.
  2. Revise the criterion. Another possible solution is to revise the use of the criterion to make evaluations more informative and productive.
  3. Renew the criterion. A third option is to communicate that independent, well-founded, and critical evaluations of the relevance of interventions are desirable, even if this means that the results of such evaluations run counter to Sida’s or partner organisations’ policies and priorities.