The need for practical knowledge on the evaluation of projects, programs and public policies increased with the admission of the Republic of Croatia into the European Union.
The process of accession of the Republic of Croatia (RC) to the European Union (EU) has triggered a stronger development and application of evaluation practice in the public management system. Evaluation requirements are primarily focused on programs and projects financially supported by the EU, but also by international development organizations and financial institutions. It is interesting to follow the gradual process of transferring knowledge and evaluation experience into a national context of public policies that is not directly conditioned by the outside, i.e. external financing. Below is the
Evaluation Strategy for European Structural Instruments implemented by the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds (MRRFEU, 2012); Operational Program Evaluation Plans (OPs), and national legislation including evaluation rules.
The Government of the Republic of Croatia (GRC) adopted in 2012 the Evaluation Strategy for European Structural Instruments . This Strategy was developed in the pre-accession period within the preparation of the transition of the Republic of Croatia from the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) to the structural instruments in the second half of 2013 and further for the programming period 2014-2020. Based on the adopted Strategy, there have been appointed the persons responsible for evaluation tasks in the bodies competent for the management and implementation of operational programs for European structural instruments. The Evaluation Strategy is implemented by the body responsible for the coordination of European structural instruments (Coordinating Body, Directorate for Strategic Planning , MRRFEU) in co-operation with the bodies responsible for managing and implementing OPs (Managing Authorities, MAs).
The overall objective of the Strategy is to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and viability of the EU assistance to the Republic of Croatia, and the establishment of a single framework for the evaluation activities of the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund (SKF), and to ensure the consistency of evaluations within the bodies responsible for fund management after accession. The individual objectives of the Strategy are as follows:
- Objective 1: To increase the capacity of the bodies of the Republic of Croatia for contracting, managing and using the evaluation of interventions financed by the SKF; Priority 1: Building Evaluation Capacity.
- Objective 2: To provide a systematic and consistent application of the evaluation through the overall implementation of the SKF of RH; Priority 2: Evaluation of SKF interventions.
- Objective 3: To include evaluation results in decision-making processes for the implementation of SKF in Croatia. Priority 3: Introduction of evaluation into decision-making processes.
In connection with the implementation of Objective 1, priority 1 – construction of evaluation capacities has several levels that are mutually reinforcing. This includes an individual level that consists of the necessary skills and competencies; organizational level of control systems and structures; an inter-organizational level that connects public and private bodies through networks, procedures and partnerships; and the social level that embeds the evaluation as a way of thinking in the public sector and civil society including professional organizations. What is common to all these levels are institutional factors, legislation, laws, resources, norms, etc., which are necessarily supported by organizational structures and mechanisms. In addition to the level of demand for evaluation activities (evaluation contracting institutions), it is also necessary to consider the level of supply of evaluation activities so to ensure that there is a supply of domestic evaluators, and that evaluators have their own professional organization.
In connection with the achievement of Objective 2 and Priority 2– MAs are responsible for contracting and conducting evaluation projects for OPs and for presenting results to supervisory boards on specific OPs.
In the program period 2014-2020, Croatia has implemented four OPs (Table 1) and the evaluation plan is prepared for each one of them (i.e. plan of evaluation). For example, for the OPKK, the MA has prepared an Evaluation Plan 2014-2020 which includes a list of planned evaluation studies through the period of implementation of the OP.
Table 1. Allocation distribution from the European Structural and Investment Funds for the Republic of Croatia 2014-2020.
Source: Ministry of Regional Development and EU fnds, Republic of Croatia. (availabe at http:// www.strukturnifondovi.hr/esi-fondovi-20144-2020
 The document avilable at: http://www.strukturnifondovi.hr/UserDocsImages/Izvje%C5%A1%C4%87a%20i%20evaluacije/Evaluacijska%20strategija%20za%20europske%20strukturne%20instrumente.pdf
In connection with the achievement process of Objective 3, priority 3 – there may be noticed a certain transfer of knowledge and practices related to the management and implementation of ESIF programs and projects including evaluation as part of the public policy management process in the national context. During the 2000s and an intensive process of preparing institutional structures for EU accession, especially within the framework of regional development policy, the Ministry for Regional Development started with guidelines for the preparation of local and regional development documents that also included the evaluation process. the provision on evaluation was subsequently incorporated in the Law on Regional Development of the Republic of Croatia (Official Gazette, 147/14). With the proposal of the Law on Strategic Planning of the Republic of Croatia, sent by the Government in the autumn of 2017 to the Croatian Parliament, the evaluation system is proposed as an integral part of the management of national public policies. In addition to the policy of regional development, what may be highlighted is a long-standing practice of evaluating public policies, programs and projects in the fields of education, science and creating an incentive environment for the development of civil society.
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that along with the implementation of the Evaluation Strategy, the Croatian Evaluation Network (HEM) has been established, which acts as an informal platform for communication, exchange of experiences and development of knowledge in the field of evaluation. In 2013, an initiative was launched to create a national network of evaluators in Croatia which resulted in the gathering of over 200 interested experts from the academic community, public sector representatives and the private sector or consultants who had been active for many years in the preparation of development projects and strategic programs, a database of evaluators was established and a training program for evaluators was launched. The HEM is coordinated by the Economic Institute, Zagreb (EIZ, www.eizg.hr) and is a member of the Western Balkans Evaluators Network (WBEN). In addition, the Croatian Evaluation Network (CEN) was registered in the International Register of Voluntary Organizations for Professional Evaluation (VOPE) led by the International Organization for Cooperation and Evaluation (IOCE, www.ioce.net).
 Western Balkan Evaluation Network (WBEN)