Adinda Van Hemelrijck

Postgraduate Researcher

Adinda is a DPhil Student but is working as a freelance consultant.

Adinda works as a freelance consultant on program design, poverty targeting, and impact evaluation & learning in collaborative settings in international development. Her focus is on capacity building and facilitation of multi-stakeholder engagements to foster social innovation and transformational change.

Her latest work is with IFAD, UNICEF, Vredeseilanden and Cognitive Edge. Until February 2012 she worked as a senior advisor for Oxfam America to assist regional offices and partners with designing and managing collective impact assessment & learning frameworks for rights-based programs and projects. Previously she worked on performance evaluation and learning for various EU-based agencies (both governmental and non-governmental).

She has experience in the field of agricultural development and rural finance (Indonesia, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ghana, Bosnia & Herzegovina); human right in extractive industries (El Salvador and Guatemala, Cambodia); gender (El Salvador, Indonesia, Ethiopia); and access to health care and immunization (Pakistan, Laos, EU).

PhD Topic

Understanding ‘Rigor’: Challenges in Impact Evaluation of Transformational Development.

While there is a wide-spread recognition nowadays of the necessity to assess and tackle poverty through enhancing people’s voice and empowerment, and of the inherent complexity of transformational development or ‘development as empowerment’, this poses immense challenges to the managerial efficiency and effectiveness rationale that dominates the aid industry since the advent of the international managing-for-results agenda.

Donors and policymakers tend to give strong preference to counterfactual-based evaluation that can produce quantitative evidence of the immediate results attributable to their investments and meeting the highest scientific-statistical standards of rigor. This type of evaluation, however, appears to be insufficient for building the evidence-base of transformational development. Hence there appears to be a mismatch between the dominant approaches of impact evaluation and of transformational development, presenting a deeper paradigmatic dispute about what is rigorous impact evaluation and constitutes rigorous evidence of impact.

Assuming that complementary strengths exist among prevailing and newly emerging approaches, my PhD research seeks to contribute to articulating a concept of rigor that can bridge the prevalent dispute and enable donors and policymakers to appropriately use impact evaluation for coming to grasp with the transformational development challenge. More specifically, it investigates the key mechanisms by which rigor is spawn or thwarted, and the tensions occurring between standards related to instrumental and transformative values. To do so, it focuses on approaches that attempt to address concerns about rigor in causal inference using participatory methods and processes.

These are relatively rare in the public repertoire of impact evaluation and pose greater methodological challenges. Adhering to basic principles of rights and democracy central to transformational development, also from an ethical stance do they deserve greater attention, albeit or precisely because of the challenges they face. Hence the main research question is: How can participatory impact assessment deliver rigorous evidence that can help better understand and influence transformational development and simultaneously meet the knowledge needs for policy- and decision-making about investments at a larger scale?


Adinda Van Hemelrijck’s recent work