5.1 Definition of the Professionalization of Evaluation

The first ingredient of your VOPE’s journey toward professionalization is the establishment of a clear definition of what it is and what it means for your VOPE. (A reminder that VOPE means “voluntary organization for professional evaluation”; the name itself refers and emphasizes the notion of professionalization.) Professionalization is defined differently by different people. At IOCE, we define professionalization as a collective set of actions aiming to equip evaluators with strong values, ethics, knowledge and skills in evaluation that support the likelihood of producing quality and useful evaluations. 

Publications by the United Nations Evaluation Group (2016, 2018), Blaine Worthen (1994), and Robert Picciotto (2011) all provide different takes on the notion of professionalization. However, they do converge on some important aspects. Professionalization refers to a collective “plan” to provide special stature and recognition to an activity (here, evaluation) in order to contribute to superior performance of this activity and to the protection of the public who is not equipped to judge the quality of that performance. Activities conducted with professionalism are founded on a core knowledge base which requires special training. They also adhere to standards of practice and are carried out in adherence to ethical guidelines which bear clear altruistic objectives. A profession commands the respect of its users who accept that the professional is autonomous and better positioned to deal with a situation than the lay person.

Professionalism is the attitude and behaviour of a professional. Interestingly, it is not easy to document the characteristics of a professional which are often opposed to those of an amateur. But it can be infered that a professional (and therefore professionalism) works full-time in their occupation which brings them high status. Professionalism is based on formal training in a field of specialized knowledge; it is often confirmed by some type of certification. Members of a profession follow a code of professional ethics, policed by associations of professionals. Professionalism can be seen as the victory of expertise, honesty, and disinterested service over incompetence, fraud, and quackery (as one author puts it).

From the point of view of a VOPE, aiming for the professionalization of evaluation practice entails support to mechanisms that will further the objectives of:

  • determining the contribution of evaluation practice in the national governance system (therefore describing the national evaluation ecosystem);
  •  identifying the competencies required of evaluators (and potentially evaluation commissioners) in the national evaluation ecosystem;
  • adopting minimum standards of practice;
  • defining ethical guidelines within which the practice of evaluation should operate, with a central attention given to human rights and rights of the public;
  • supporting individual capacity building by academic institutions and specialized trainers;
  • considering how to recognize individuals who are professionals.

A secondary conversation is whether your VOPE wishes to use the term “professionalization.” For example, in South Africa, the South African M&E Association (SAMEA) refers to “strengthening”, not “professionalizing” evaluators and evaluation. 

So, questions to you, VOPE leaders: has your VOPE defined what being an evaluation professional means? Have you discussed this with your membership and partners? Is there a consensus around what it means to be an evaluator (and therefore around what evaluation is)?


  • Picciotto, Robert (2011) The logic of evaluation professionalism, Evaluation
  • United Nations Evaluation Group (2016) Norms and Standards for Evaluation.
  • United Nations Evaluation Group Professionalization Working Group (2018) Round Table Meeting, Becoming Fit to Evaluate in the SDG Era: Exchanges on Professionalization, May 2018
  • Worthen, Blaine R. (1994) Is Evaluation a Mature Profession That Warrants the Preparation of Evaluation Professionals?, New Directions in Evaluation


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