Evaluation of foreign policy spending

An evaluation is a systematic and objective scrutiny and assessment of a policy, policy instrument or activity. An evaluation should identify the results achieved, thus giving an indication of effectiveness and efficiency, as well as the factors that led to these results.

Evaluations are used in accounting for the policy conducted, or the instruments or activities deployed. The feedback provided by evaluations can be used to improve the quality of policymaking and policy implementation. The function of evaluations, therefore, is twofold: accountability and learning.

The evaluation plan of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs encompasses all aspects of ministry policy and is part of the annual budget cycle. It is adjusted every year on the basis of an ongoing evaluation cycle.

Some evaluations are carried out under the responsibility of the Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB), the Ministry’s independent evaluation body, others under the responsibility of the policy departments and embassies. Evaluations may also be commissioned by other organisations (third-party evaluations), of policy or activities which receive substantial ministry support.

Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB)


The objective of the Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB) is to increase insight into the implementation and effects of Dutch foreign policy. IOB meets the need for independent evaluation of policy and operations in all policy fields falling under the Homogenous Budget for International Cooperation (HGIS). IOB also advises on the planning and implementation of the evaluations for which policy departments and embassies are responsible.

Its evaluations enable the ministers to account to parliament for policy and the allocation of resources. In addition, the evaluations aim to derive lessons for the future. Efforts are accordingly made to incorporate the findings of evaluations into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ policy cycle. Evaluation reports are used to provide targeted feedback, with a view to improving both policy intentions and implementation. Insight into the outcome of implemented policy allows policymakers to devise measures that are more effective and focused.

Approach and methodology

IOB has a staff of experienced evaluators and its own budget. When carrying out evaluations, it calls on the assistance of external experts with specialised knowledge of the topic under investigation. To monitor its own quality, it sets up a reference group for each evaluation, which includes not only external experts but also interested parties from within the Ministry.

IOB evaluations form part of the Ministry’s evaluation programme (set annually by the Senior Management Board) that appears in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ budget.

An organisation in development

Since IOB’s establishment in 1977, major shifts have taken place in its approach, areas of focus and responsibilities. In its early years, its activities took the form of separate project evaluations for the Minister for Development Cooperation. Around 1985, evaluations became more comprehensive, taking in sectors, themes and countries. Moreover, IOB’s reports were submitted to parliament, thus entering the public domain.

1996 saw a review of foreign policy and a reorganisation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a result, IOB’s mandate was extended to the Dutch government’s entire foreign policy. In recent years, it has extended its partnerships with similar departments in other countries, for instance through joint evaluations.

Finally, IOB also aims to expand its methodological repertoire. This includes greater emphasis on statistical methods of impact evaluation.