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Assess your Action Plan

These guidelines aim to supply higher education and research institutions with tools and guidance for the assessment of their Transformational-Gender Action Plans. They suggest using evaluation methodology for quality assurance of gender action plans, to support legitimacy and in-house dialogue and to measure institutional performance of the implementation of these plans to foster gender equality. The target group of the guidelines comprises any actors in charge of or interested in conducting an assessment of (parts of a) Transformational-Gender Action Plan. These may include coordinators, gender equality bodies and quality management entities.

The evaluation guidelines and its toolkit were developed by the evaluation team at GESIS-Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences.

The evaluation cycle & the structure of the evaluation guidelines

The structure of the guidelines follows the evaluation cycle (see graph 1) as suggested by the authors of these guidelines which is relevant for both self-assessments and external evaluations. The first step of the cycle is the preparation of the self-assessment activities that is described in detail in chapter 2. Subsequently, data is to be collected, followed by the analysis of these data. The authors identified three perspectives of analysis and two phases of collecting and analysing data, and the authors consider these perspectives a more useful structure for the presentation of this part of the guidelines than the distinction between data collection and data analysis. Both these steps of the evaluation cycle are thus addressed in chapter 3. Having analysed the data, the next step is to provide feedback on the self-assessment results. Based on this feedback, it is to be discussed how to implement recommendations resulting from the self-assessment. This follow-up is crucial in order for the evaluation to have any impact on further strategy development, structures and practices. The feedback and the follow-up steps are presented in chapter 4.


                                                                 Graph 1: The evaluation cycle (source: own graph)


The whole evaluation itself can be considered to form part of a bigger cycle – the programme or project management cycle, depicted as follows:


                                                     Graph 2: The programme management cycle (source: own graph)


The self-assessment results are supposed to feed into the programme or project management cycle outlined above by informing a modification of the assessed subject and/or its implementation. In the case of a gender action plan, self-assessments may lead to an adaptation of existent measures and/or the development of complimentary measures, shifts in responsibilities or changes to the implementation process. Usually, the self-assessment feedback includes concrete recommendations on which modifications to make in order to optimize the gender action plan or the implementation process.

In order for the self-assessment to have any impacts on developments along the programme management cycle, a clear commitment of the management to the self-assessment is essential. Such an explicit commitment should be established before the beginning of the self-assessment activities.

Definition of evaluation, including self-assessment

There is a large variety of definitions of evaluation. For the purpose of these guidelines, evaluation is defined as a systematic assessment of a subject (in this case: a Transformational Gender Action Plan) in view of defined goals. Simply put, a gender action plan can be considered successful if it reaches its objectives; the same holds for individual measures within the action plan.

This assessment may take place in the course of the implementation of the gender action plan and/or at the end of the validity period of the entire plan or parts of it. This guide suggests to combine formative and summative evaluation elements.

  • Formative evaluation activities take a closer look at implementation processes and aim at contributing to an optimization of the plan and its implementation while it is being implemented by reflecting on what works and what does not work (yet) and why (not).
  • In contrast, summative evaluations focus on the impacts of the gender action plan on the target group(s) and are usually carried out at the end or at a later stage of the implementation process. (For further information on types of evaluation please consult the section on ‘Define the type of the self-assessment’ below.)

Evaluations may be carried out by persons or entities involved in the design and/or implementation of the gender action plan, or by experts that are external to the specific setting (see below: ‘Define the role of the evaluator within the institutional set-up and its potential implications for the self-assessment’). This guide specifically targets persons managing the gender action plan who are themselves about to conduct an evaluation of the latter, i.e. a self-assessment. Yet, it can as well be of use to other actors tasked with the evaluation of a gender action plan, and may provide guidance to actors commissioning an externally conducted evaluation (in the latter case, the guidelines may provide orientation regarding what to ask for when hiring external evaluators).

Limits of and to evaluations, including self-assessments

Any evaluation faces limits and limitations arousing both from the evaluation concept and from external restrictions. It is helpful to be aware of and to communicate these limits in order to create adequate expectations regarding the role of the evaluation in e.g. strategy development.

Firstly, at least as regards the type of evaluation suggested in these guidelines the scope of the evaluation is restricted to the scope and objective(s) of the gender action plan to be evaluated. Thus, the evaluation can and should take context factors into account but only to the extent that they are of expected relevance to the action plan and its implementation. Furthermore, actors in charge of the evaluation may receive specific task descriptions by the entity or person that commissions the evaluation that may also define the focus and the objectives of the evaluation. Furthermore, evaluators may experience self-inflicted restrictions due to e.g. their position in the institutional hierarchy.

It is to be stressed that, although evaluations provide the ground for an adaptation of strategies and measures, evaluators are not responsible of the implementation of recommendations; it is decision-makers in the institutions that are in charge of this task.

Experience from the INTEGER project showed that the availability of sex-disaggregated data tends to be limited which poses restrictions to evaluation activities. In addition, the fact that internal resources, in particular money and time to be dedicated to the evaluation, are likely to be limited is to be taken into account at the planning stage as well.

Requirements regarding self-assessment competence, methodological skills

These guidelines explicitly (also) target “beginners” in the field of self-assessment. The guidelines are tailored for practical use and the practical examples aim to provide orientation in particular to users with limited or no previous experiences. “Beginners” (and others) are recommended to deepen their methodological knowledge following the references provided in the different sections of the guidelines.

Minimum requirements as regards methodological competencies and skills include the compilation and analysis of descriptive statistics, document analysis and qualitative research, especially the analysis of interviews. Basic skills can be obtained through (short) courses provided by a number of training centres and online platforms. It can be worthwhile to investigate on the respective offers available in the evaluator’s own institution.

Furthermore, the quality of the self-assessment highly benefits from a certain gender sensitivity, a familiarity with concepts of gender as well as experience with analyses of gender inequalities.