Thursday, December 13, 2012

Complexity, Adaptation, and Results

Extract taken from CDG Global Development 

In a series of commentaries looking at the implications of complexity theory for development, Owen Barder and Ben Ramalingam look at the implications of complexity for the trend towards results-based management in development cooperation. They argue that is a common mistake to see a contradiction between recognizing complexity and focusing on results: on the contrary, complexity provides a powerful reason for pursuing the results agenda, but it has to be done in ways which reflect the context. 
In the 2012 Kapuscinski lecture Owen argued that economic and political systems can best be thought of as complex adaptive systems, and that development should be understood as an emergent property of those systems. These interactive systems are made up of adaptive actors, whose actions are a self-organized search for fitness on a shifting landscape. Systems like this undergo change in dynamic, non-linear ways; characterized by explosive surprises and tipping points as well as periods of relative stability.

If development arises from the interactions of a dynamic and unpredictable system, you might draw the conclusion that it makes no sense to try to assess or measure the results of particular development interventions. That would be the wrong conclusion to reach. While the complexity of development implies a different way of thinking about evaluation, accountability and results, it also means that the ‘results agenda’ is more important than ever.

Embrace experimentation
There is a growing movement in development which rejects the common view that there is a simple, replicable prescription for development.  Dani Rodrik talks of ‘one economics, many recipes’. David Booth talks of the move from best practice to best fit.  Mirilee Grindle talks of ‘good enough governance’. Bill Easterly has talked of moving ‘from planners to searchers’. Owen Barder has called for us to design not a better world, but better feedback loops.  Sue Unsworth talks of an upside down view of governance.  Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock aim to synthesize all this into their proposal for Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation.

These ideas are indispensable in the search for solutions in complex adaptive systems. In his 2011 book Adapt, Tim Harford showed that adaptation is the way to deal with problems in unpredictable, complex systems.  Adaptation works by making small changes, observing the results, and then adjusting.  This is the exact opposite of the planning approach, widely used in development, which involves designing complicated programmes and then tracking milestones as they are implemented.

We know a lot about how adaptation works, especially from evolution theory. There are three essential characteristics of any successful mechanism for adaptation:
  1. Variation – any process of adaptation and evolution must include sources of innovation and diversity, and the system must be able to fail safely
  2. An appropriate fitness function which distinguishes good changes from bad on some implicit path to desirable outcomes
  3. Effective selection which causes good changes to succeed and reproduce, but which suppresses bad changes.
These principles are reflected in the six principles for working in complex systems which Ben set out in a Santa Fe Institute working paper with the former head of USAID Afghanistan, Bill Frej. They also run through the ideas in the must-read recent paper by Andrews, Pritchett and Woolcock  which sets out four steps for ‘iterative adaptation’ in the case of state-building and governance reforms:
  1. focus on solving locally nominated and defined problems in performance (as opposed to transplanting pre-conceived and packaged best-practice solutions);
  2. create an ‘authorizing environment’ for decision-making that encourages ‘positive deviance‘ and experimentation, as opposed to designing projects and programs and then requiring agents to implement them;
  3. embed this experimentation in tight feedback loops that facilitate rapid experiential learning (as opposed to enduring long lag times in learning from evaluation);
  4. engage broad sets of agents to ensure that reforms are viable, legitimate, relevant and supportable.
So there is now some convergence around these ideas, all of which focus on the importance of experimentation, feedback and adaptation as ways of coping with uncertainty and complexity.

Read the full article linked here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Congressional Research Service has recently published a study by Marion Lawson summarizing efforts to evaluate US foreign assistance during the past 50 years.  While describing the historical efforts in this area, it also explores avenues by which Congress may influence actions in this area.  
An extract of the summary is below:
The US Congress’s recent focus on reducing federal spending raises questions about the relative efficiency and effectiveness of all federal programs. In this context, evaluation of foreign assistance programs is of growing interest to many Members of Congress as they scrutinize the Administration’s international affairs budget request and debate foreign aid spending priorities.

Policymakers, taxpayers, and aid recipients alike want to know what impact, if any, foreign aid dollars are having, and whether foreign aid programs are achieving their intended objectives. In most cases, the success or failure of U.S. foreign aid programs is not entirely clear, in part because historically, most aid programs have not been evaluated for the purpose of determining their actual impact. 
The purpose and methodologies of foreign aid evaluation have varied over the decades, responding to political and fiscal circumstances. Aid evaluation practices and policies have variously focused on meeting program management needs, building institutional learning, accounting for resources, informing policymakers, and building local oversight and project design capacity. Challenges to meaningful aid evaluation have varied as well, but several are recurring.  
Persistent challenges to effective evaluation include unclear aid objectives, funding and personnel  constraints, emphasis on accountability for funds, methodological challenges, compressed timelines, country ownership and donor coordination commitments, security, and agency and personnel incentives. As a result of these challenges, aid agencies do not undertake rigorous evaluation for all foreign aid activities.

The U.S. government agencies managing foreign assistance each have their own distinct evaluation policies; these policies have come into closer alignment in the last two years than in the past. The Obama Administration’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) resulted in, among other things, a stated commitment to plan foreign aid budgets “based not on dollars spent, but on outcomes achieved.” 
Though recent evaluation reform efforts have been agency-driven, Congress has considerable influence over their impact. Legislators may mandate a particular approach to evaluation directly through legislation (e.g., H.R. 3159, S. 3310), or can support or undermine Administration policies by controlling the appropriations necessary to implement the policies. Furthermore, Congress will largely determine how, or if, any actionable information resulting from the new approach to evaluations will influence the nation’s foreign assistance policy priorities.
The complete CRS report is linked here.
An update of USAID Evaluation Policy progress is linked here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

International Development Assistance Ecosystem of the USA

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has published a new white paper on US international development assistance strategy (link here).  An extract of the introduction is below:

Since the end of the Cold War, the method by which the United States delivers foreign aid to the developing world has changed considerably. During this time, as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) saw large-scale staff reductions coupled with an increase in programs, a large base of U.S for-profit and nonprofit organizations grew up to implement projects and programs in the developing world. Although the budgetary situation reversed beginning in 2002, staffing levels at USAID remained low and a need to engage the U.S. implementer community continues. 

Concurrently, a broader discussion occurred over the effectiveness of development assistance by major donors. This effort, which resulted in the Paris Declaration of 2005 and later agreements at Accra in 2008 and Busan in 2011, enshrined the notion of country ownership—that the developing world must drive its priorities to ensure sustainability. The Obama administration launched its USAID Forward agenda to re-establish USAID as the premier development agency in the world. A central aspect of this agenda are reforms designed to reduce the Agency’s dependence on contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements with U.S. development implementers and shift to a greater use of government to government support and local organizations.

The report argues that the current U.S. ecosystem of international development assistance should be treated as a strategic asset that plays an important role in meeting U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives. As with all systems, it can and should be improved; however, it should be strengthened, not weakened. This system, while imperfect, delivers a level of accountability and transparency for the U.S. government that is vital to continued political support for foreign assistance. 

The development implementers must do more to evolve to meet the changing nature of how the U.S. government sees development and the broader trends in the field. However, there are significant risks associated with USAID’s proposed reforms, which, if fully implemented, may not achieve the results desired.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A New Framework for Philanthropic and International Development Collaboration

The Bellagio Initiative is a series of global consultations to produce a new framework for philanthropic and international development collaboration in pursuit of human well being. Advancing well being in a world experiencing scarcity, complex risks and inequities is a key challenge facing philanthropists and development experts.

As the 21st century unfolds, climate change, economic volatility, and social and political polarization will challenge existing models for sustainable development and human well being.

In September, Bellagio will release a report that addresses the key insights from the Bellagio Initiative. Human Wellbeing in the 21st Century: Meeting Challenges, Seizing Opportunities, analyzes the Initiative, presenting major themes and conclusions. The report reveals new ways to promote future wellbeing through strengthened philanthropy and development.
Several videos, compiled from the insights of Summit attendees, begin to point in the direction of some of the major themes of the final report. 

Next steps to act on these themes are already underway: workshops on balancing risk and opportunity; a study of the potential role of philanthropy in innovation ecosystems; work to strengthen North-South and South-South collaboration in philanthropy.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Escaping Capability Traps through Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation

CGD Working Paper 299
Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett, and Michael Woolcock with Center for Global Development argue in a recently published working paper that many reform initiatives in developing countries fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because they are merely isomorphic mimicry—that is, governments and organizations pretend to reform by changing what policies or organizations look like rather than what they actually do

In addition, the flow of development resources and legitimacy without demonstrated improvements in performance undermines the impetus for effective action to build state capability or improve performance. This dynamic facilitates “capability traps” in which state capability stagnates, or even deteriorates, over long periods of time even though governments remain engaged in developmental rhetoric and continue to receive development resources.

How can countries escape capability traps? We propose an approach, Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), based on four core principles, each of which stands in sharp contrast with the standard approaches.
  1. PDIA focuses on solving locally nominated and defined problems in performance (as opposed to transplanting preconceived and packaged “best practice” solutions).

  2. It seeks to create an authorizing environment for decision-making that encourages positive deviance and experimentation (as opposed to designing projects and programs and then requiring agents to implement them exactly as designed).

  3. It embeds this experimentation in tight feedback loops that facilitate rapid experiential learning (as opposed to enduring long lag times in learning from ex post “evaluation”).

  4. It actively engages broad sets of agents to ensure that reforms are viable, legitimate, relevant, and supportable (as opposed to a narrow set of external experts promoting the top-down diffusion of innovation). 
Read complete working paper linked here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to feed the world’s population through 2021

7B and counting: How to feed the world’s population through 2021


Global demand for food is expected to rise sharply in the next 10 years. To meet such demand requires a significant but sustainable increase in agricultural productivity, according to two leading international organizations.

The latest edition of a joint publication by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization predicts potential scenarios for global agriculture through 2021. Chief among these is a sharp increase in food demand due to migration, urbanization, changing diets, higher incomes and population growth.

But agricultural resources, especially arable land, are likely to shrink over the same time period. That’s why OECD and FAO are stressing the importance of increasing agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, in his speech at the launch of the joint report, proposed a number of ways on how this can be achieved:

  • Promote green growth in agriculture and giving incentives to encourage sound agronomic practices such as drip irrigation.
  • Create a technical, commercial and regulatory environment that promotes farm-level agronomic practices.
  • Encourage agricultural innovation.
  • Tackle wastage.
  • Close the gender gap in developing countries’ agriculture sector.
  • Support the development of infrastructure in the developing world.

Aside from the sharp increase in global food demand, the OECD-FAO report predicts food prices will remain high through 2021 because of higher energy prices. Further, it notes that the bulk of vegetables, rice, oil, sugar, poultry, beef, fist products and oil seed exports will come from developing and emerging countries, especially Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil and Ukraine.

A separate report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, meanwhile, finds being a landlocked country does not mean having greater food insecurity. The report suggests governments should focus on improving access to and finding more sources of financing for farmers, safety net programs, and nutritional intake to boost food security.

The report also provides a ranking of countries based on their levels of food security. Not surprisingly, Western nations are at the top of the index, with the United States, Denmark and France the three most food-secure countries in the world. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are ranked most food insecure, with Burundi, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo occupying the bottom three spots.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Frontiers in Development - USAID

An extract from the new publication forward...

Never before has the world experienced such significant progress in human development and at the same time seen such rapid and unpredictable changes in the forces that affect development. 700 million fewer people live in absolute poverty today than 20 years ago. The share of children dying before their first birthday is half of what it was in 1975. 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, democracy has swept across developing countries. And today more developing countries are experiencing sustained broad-based economic growth than ever before. We at USAID are proud to be a part of this great progress. Our investments in health and education, support for agriculture and food security, encouragement of democracy and good governance, and assistance to governments in building capacity and encouraging private investment has helped build greater prosperity and stability, both for our partner countries and for the United States. 

But the forces affecting development are changing rapidly. Private-sector capital flows are seven times larger than what they were a decade ago, and now dwarf development assistance. The Arab Spring has ushered in new possibilities for democracy and growth in the Middle East, but also led to new challenges and uncertainties. Conflict and extreme poverty are increasingly intertwined. The growing success of many emerging markets has lifted millions from poverty, but also has unleashed much greater demand for natural resources, energy, and food. Climate change threatens to slow and possibly even reverse development gains in many countries. USAID and others working in developing countries must both embrace these changes and evolve with them in order to continue to be effective in supporting and sustaining development. 

Creating space to evaluate and better understand key development trends is essential to adapt to the rapid transformations in the development landscape. Rather than chase the latest fad or jump between shifting priorities, we must seize pivotal opportunities that we know can leave behind generational legacies of success. To that end, USAID is engaging with the smartest, most innovative, and most experienced thought-leaders and practitioners from around the world to stimulate debate around key development challenges and opportunities. 

We call this effort Frontiers in Development. Designed to encourage forward-looking, provocative discussion and debate and to strengthen the analysis, design, and implementation of development programs, Frontiers in Development is aimed at cultivating innovative analysis and leadership to expand the Agency’s learning and to increase our effectiveness.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Millennium Development Goals 2.0

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are widely cited as the primary yardstick against which advances in international development efforts are to be judged. At the same time, the Goals will be met or missed by 2015. 

It's not too soon to consider what comes after the Millennium Development Goals, say Center for Global Development's Charles Kenny and Jonathan Karver. What should the MDGs 2.0 look like? 

Their paper (link here) builds on a discussion that has already begun to address potential approaches, goals, and target indicators to help inform the process of developing a second generation of MDGs or ‘MDGs 2.0.’ The paper outlines potential goal areas based on the original Millennium Declaration, and the timeframe for any MDGs 2.0.  

As well, it attempts to calculate some reasonable targets associated with those goal areas.

Potential Areas for Numerical Targets

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

data for aid transparency

Last month, the Global Humanitarian Assistance data access and transparency program at Development Initiatives released its new restructured data store, which presents the seven core data sets that drive our analysis and products, mapping and quantifying the world of financing flows to humanitarian crises.
aid transparency
The data sets cover where the money comes from and where it goes, the actors involved, the funding mechanisms used, and the countries and projects prioritized, as well as the levels of funding provided.

Their unique data set on the international humanitarian financing response to crises is published here for the first time. They believe this data set provides the most comprehensive assessment of humanitarian financing contributions from governments — both members of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and other governments outside of the DAC – and private donors.

The data set on humanitarian financing flows via pooled humanitarian funds compiles for the first time comprehensive information on these transactions from the perspective of both donor and recipient countries.

GHA’s data has been drawn from a variety of sources, including OECD-DAC, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Financial Tracking Service and field offices, the World Bank, and the European Commission. It has been streamlined to form the following sets:
  1. International humanitarian response — What countries in crisis receive from international governments and private contributions.
  2. Official development assistance — What countries give and receive in the form of OECD-defined “aid” for sectors such as governance and security, education or health.
  3. Financing mechanisms — What countries give and receive through the Central Emergency Response Fund, emergency response funds and common humanitarian funds.
  4. Funding channels — How humanitarian financing flows through the system, be it through the United Nations, government agencies or nongovernmental organizations.
  5. Needs, crisis, vulnerability — What countries give and receive through the U.N. consolidated appeals process and non-CAP appeals; what we know about need from the EU’s crisis and vulnerability index.
  6. Capacity — What resources governments have to respond to crises within their own countries; what investments have been made in risk reduction.
  7. Reference tables — Summary tables on various indicators and indices.

The data store provides a vital resource for those involved in humanitarian policy, programming and performance. Whether donors, implementing partners or field workers, anyone with a sharp interest in having reliable up-to-date data at their fingertips will find this of great value.

The data store is created in Google spreadsheets to improve accessibility for users, who can download the data in a variety of formats, including XLS and CSV. This will be updated on a rolling basis, beginning in June, to include the latest data that drives our forthcoming GHA Report 2012.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Are Conditional Cash Programs Worth It?

In a recent Council on Foreign Relations article, Shannon ONeil analyzes "conditional cash programs".  An extract is below (and full post here):
In the economic development world, one of Latin America’s claims to fame are its conditional cash transfer programs (CCTs), which provide direct money transfers to low-income families who send their children to school and/or get basic health care. A few of these programs, such as Bolsa Família in Brazil and Oportunidades in Mexico, reach millions of families (some 20 percent of the two countries’ households). 

Others are smaller and more targeted toward the extreme poor, such as Chile Solidario in Chile, Familias en Acción in Colombia, and Bono de Desarrollo Humano in Ecuador. Most now boast at least a decade in place, providing a track record to test their reach and effectiveness.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cash On Delivery Aid Pilots

The Center for Global Development is involved in several pilots testing the COD approach in education with the UK DfID.  The COD overview below is taken from a presentation by Desmond Bermingham linked here:

The Idea of Cash on Delivery Aid

  • An open ‘contract’ offered by one or more funders for recipients to sign on
  • Specific amount for specific progress, e.g. $200 per child taking a competency test in the final year of primary school
  •  Not meant to substitute for existing aid

The Problem: Accountability goes in wrong directions

  • In high-income countries, taxes finance service delivery and taxpayers monitor quality
  • In aid-dependent countries, citizens have weak incentives to monitor aid-financed programs
  • Absent local scrutiny and weak outcome measurement, funders seek to control inputs
  • Neither funder nor recipient knows real production function

COD Aid builds on but differs from other approaches

  • Macro level (not household or provider)
  • Program outcomes that are incremental (not pass/fail like many policy conditions)
  • Measurement and transparency makes recipient government accountable to citizens rather than funders
  • Funders are also more accountable – to their own legislators and taxpayers for outcomes

Key features of COD Aid

  • Funder pays for outcomes, not inputs
  • Recipient chooses how to achieve progress not the funder (“Hands-off”)
  • Independently verified by a third party 
  • Transparent to the public
  • Complements other aid modalities

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Defining Humanitarianism

In a recent Stratfor commentary, Robert Kaplan discusses the move from counter-insurgency to maritime strategy and the implications for humanitarian work.  An extract is below...
The United States has made a choice, one in favor of an Indo-Pacific maritime strategy as opposed to a Middle East counterinsurgency strategy. This is not just a matter of what the Obama administration wants but of what the mandarins in the defense community in Washington demand. In other words, for example, there will be more submarines moving about in the South China Sea and fewer Army sergeants helping villagers on the ground in Afghanistan. To continue to conduct ground wars in the Muslim world, even as the U.S. Navy and Air Force pivot to Asia, could mean a rise of the defense budget by as much as a third over time. And that is not going to happen. A war against Iran would be an air-sea campaign; forget army divisions.
This means that the role of humanitarians will be diminished. Humanitarians were front and center advising the Army on how to win over civilian hearts and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though they might have opposed those wars at the outset. Humanitarians prefer to reduce foreign and defense policy to a branch of relief work; patrolling the sea lines of communication for the benefit of world trade simply does not interest them, while saving citizens of Benghazi from the depredations of Moammar Gadhafi's troops does. Humanitarians now demand some sort of action on Syria, even as many of them are oblivious to the rise of Chinese naval power.
Read the full article here at Stratfor.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A faith-based aid revolution in the Muslim world

Photo: IRIN
Some for you: Muslims are required to donate 2.5 percent of their wealth and assets to the poor every year
DUBAI, 1 June 2012 (IRIN) - Every year, somewhere between US$200 billion and $1 trillion are spent in “mandatory” alms and voluntary charity across the Muslim world, Islamic financial analysts estimate.

At the low end of the estimate, this is 15 times more than
global humanitarian aid contributions* in 2011.

With aid from traditional Western donors decreasing in the wake of a global recession, and with about a quarter of the Muslim world living on less than $1.25 a day**, this represents a huge pool of potential in the world of aid funding.

But Islamic finance experts, researchers and development workers say much of the money spent in `zakat’ (mandatory alms) and `sadaqa’ (charity) is mismanaged, wasted or ineffective.
Read the full IRIN article linked here.

Photo: VladKol/Shutterstock
Aid from traditional Western donors has decreased in the wake of a global recession

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cheap, effective shelter for disaster relief

Michael McDaniel designed housing for disaster relief zones -- inexpensive, easy to transport, even beautiful – but found that no one was willing to build it. 

Persistent and obsessed, he decided to go it alone. At TEDxAustin, McDaniel show us his Exo Reaction Housing Solution and shares how he's dedicating his free time to working with suppliers and manufacturers to prepare for the next natural disaster. Michael McDaniel is a graphic designer using his skills to help people in meaningful ways.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Focus on safe water and sanitation

WaterAid and its partners use practical solutions to provide safe water, effective sanitation and hygiene education to the world’s poorest people. We also seek to influence policy at national and international levels.

This short, powerful film gives a compelling insight into WaterAid's work around the world.

Focusing on Tanzania, India and Burkina Faso, the film outlines how WaterAid is changing people's lives through the provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.
The film highlights the importance of using community participation and low cost, appropriate technologies to ensure the sustainability of WaterAid's projects.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is the future of the corporation? Paul Polak's vision will likely transform your view of what's possible through capitalism and may change the way current organizations view their business models. 

His TED talk details the tremendous shared value that lies within product and system designs for the bottom 90% of the income pyramid.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Youth Unemployment in N. Africa

The African Development Bank in North Africa 2012 report puts the spotlight on the problem of youth unemployment in the region, which is triggered by the global economic crisis and exacerbated by recent political instability.

The report recommends several policy options governments can adopt to address the situation. Some of these include reforming school and university curricula to address mismatch of skills, reducing financial and administrative costs in doing business in the region, and encouraging companies to provide on-the-job training. The report says governments can encourage them via subsidies and tax incentives.

An extract from the Forward below:
Geographically situated at the northern rim of the continent, North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia) constitutes a central part of Africa. It is also central to the the history and the daily operations of the African Development Bank (AfDB). The countries of the region were instrumental in the creation of the AfDB more than 45 years ago and are now contributing nearly 20 percent of the Bank’s subscribed capital. 

Since the beginning of its operations in 1966, the Bank Group has committed nearly US$ 17 billion in loans and grants to North Africa, consistently supporting the people of the region in their endeavors to develop and modernize their economies, and improve their living conditions. Producing about one-third of Africa’s total GDP and home to nearly 170 million people, North Africa is today the most prosperous region on the continent and occupies a geopolitical position that goes significantly beyond its economic weight. 

In 2011, North Africa also became the epicenter of social and political change as the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and spread across and beyond the region. The report provides an assessment of recent macroeconomic developments. It also examines two important long-term challenges for the region, namely the causes and consequences of youth unemployment and the importance of moving the region’s exports up the value chain. 

The African Development Bank must learn from the momentous changes currently underway in the region, understand their underlying causes and make adjustments as appropriate to its interventions. This will be done through close consultation with our clients to ensure that we provide the best-possible support to improve the lives of the people in the region. 

In particular, as we finance infrastructure and other projects, we will ensure that rural and disenfranchised regions are developed and integrated, and pay particular attention to the creation of meaningful jobs. Ours is a long-term commitment and we remain engaged in this important region especially during these important times. It is in this spirit that we present this year’s Annual Report for North Africa.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cheese and dogs and pills to kill mosquitoes

We can use a mosquito's own instincts against her. At TEDxMaastricht speaker Bart Knols demos the imaginative solutions his team is developing to fight malaria -- including limburger cheese and a deadly pill.

Bart Knowles is a doctor committed to killing mosquitoes and ending malaria.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How much does a good evaluation cost?

The cost of rigorous evaluations depends on many things including the question being studied, the context, and the required level of precision. So why do people complain about the cost of studies as a general principle when they vary so much? 

And why discuss costs without considering the benefits of the information they generate? The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy contributes some evidence about costs to this debate in " Rigorous Program Evaluations on a Budget: How Low-Cost Randomized Controlled Trials Are Possible in Many Areas of Social Policy." Their brief guide describes five well-conducted, low-cost studies which ranged from $50,000 to $300,000. The introduction of random assignment in these studies comprised only a small portion of this cost (between $0 and $20,000) and the studies all produced practical and useful evidence for public policy.

Explaining rigorous evaluations well is part of the challenge ...


... but this video from the International Growth Centre shows it can be done . In the video, Karthik Muralidharan (University of California, San Diego) and Nishith Prakash (University of Connecticut) explain how they measured the impact of a program in Bihar, India that gave bicycles to girls as a way to promote increases in high school enrollment. Though the study results are preliminary, the method seems robust. Muralidharan and Prakash control for other factors by contrasting the change in enrollment for girls over time to the change in enrollment for boys within Bihar. They then go one step further by contrasting that difference with the comparison between girls and boys in a neighboring state that did not have the bicycle program. Smart research design; excellent explanation of results.

Extract update from Center for Global Development.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

USA - Engagement during Austerity

This is an extract from commentary by Connie Veillette and John Norris from the Center for Global Development

Budget concerns will almost certainly put downward pressure on federal spending across a host of government programs for a number of years.  Although some think it is almost heretical to point out the obvious, the international affairs budget will not be immune from this dynamic. In fact, international spending could take a disproportionate hit compared to domestic spending – despite the fact that discretionary international spending is a very small part of the overall budget puzzle.

International affairs, and more specifically foreign assistance, have rarely been popular budget items among the public or on Capitol Hill – despite consistently comprising only about 1 percent of the total federal budget.  Even so, foreign aid and international engagement make good political targets for elected officials out on the stump...

The central question then becomes how do we maintain U.S. global leadership in development and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of aid programs at a time when the international affairs budget is surrounded by so much uncertainty?

Last fall, we set up a bipartisan working group to think through this question and look at how to reorient the international affairs budget during this current period of austerity. The resulting report, Engagement Amid Austerity, is now available.

This report outlines four big ideas as a framework for reorienting the foreign affairs budget:
  • Be more selective and focused on what types of economic and security assistance are provided to which countries.
  • Put PEPFAR programs in upper middle income countries on an increased cost-sharing trajectory.
  • Reform U.S. food assistance programs by eliminating monetization, cargo preference, and allowing more local and regional purchase of emergency food aid.
  • Create an International Affairs Realignment Commission to examine and redesign programs and architecture.
While we are not advocating for cuts to the foreign affairs budget, it is abundantly clear that the United States is spread far too thinly in its assistance programs. The United States currently provides economic assistance to 103 countries and security assistance to 143 countries.  U.S. assistance programs are trying to do too many things in too many places without clear objectives...

We believe that programs can be better focused for greater impact.  In short, we should be directing more resources into fewer countries...   We recommend focusing economic assistance in 53 countries, and focusing security aid in 72 countries.

Others may reach alternative conclusions using this same data, and we have provided as much information to readers as possible so that they can do so...

Full commentary linked here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Evaluating EU aid: a booming business

An extract from the Oversea Development Institute by Mikaela Gavas:

As the wave of austerity unfolds across Europe and pressure mounts on aid budgets, donors are under increasing pressure to demonstrate accountability, value for money and evidence of effectiveness. Enter the EU… 

Following the assessment of the EU as part of the UK Department for International Development’s Multilateral Aid Review, the EU aid programme has undergone a further evaluation in the UK by the House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC), a peer review by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and an evaluation by the Dutch Government (still to be published). And it’s not over. 

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact is also lining up to evaluate the EU. The danger is that instead of making it more effective, too much auditing might become crippling. The IDC inquiry into EU aid, published on 27 April, and the OECD DAC peer review of EU aid, published three days earlier, ran in parallel. The former focuses mainly on the comparative advantage of EU aid, the new direction for EU development policy and future funding. 

The latter report is a lot more comprehensive, analysing the overall policy and strategic framework, the funding, the institutional structures, organisation and management, the procedures and the impact of the EU’s development and humanitarian aid programmes.

More follows..... 

The IDC is right on its key point: the Commission would do well to focus efforts on the poorest countries, and develop new partnerships with the others. EU aid to Upper Middle Income Countries is currently four times the DAC average, and has been widely criticised as being insufficiently targeted on poverty eradication – not only by the IDC, but also by the DAC in previous peer reviews, and other stakeholders. At the same time, while no one questions the validity of the Commission providing substantial support to countries like Turkey to prepare it for accession to the EU, the question is whether this should be counted as Official Development Assistance.  One for the DAC…

Read the full commentary linked here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Overview to Human and Institutional Capacity Development - HICD

This is a recent 30 minute "brown bag" lunch presentation provided by Steven J, Kelly, partner with KNO, to an audience in Washington DC.   It is a broad overview of the HICD method illustrating the links to Human Performance Technology.  It followed several other briefings on "What is HPT" and "How to Get CPT Certified" that went into greater detail concerning the models and tools.

The orientation also includes a short discussion of the evolution of HICD over several decades from it's early training roots through to the current holistic performance improvement framework ...

A copy of the slides is available here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

IFTDO 2012 Certificate of Merit Awarded to KNO

KNO received a 2012 certificate of merit from the International Federation of Training and Development Organizations (link) for our Performance Driven Project Management program in Northern Cyprus. 

Accepted by colleague Christine Marsh CPT with these remarks: 

 "KNO, with headquarters in Slovakia, is extremely honored to be awarded a Certificate of Merit in the work life balance category for 2012. Our pilot program of Performance Driven Project Management, delivered to the Turkish Cypriot Community is northern Cyprus, proved of both immediate and durable value in a territory suffering ongoing effects of historical conflict. 

We especially recognize the funding from the United States Agency for International Development executed through a World Learning capacity Development project that made this program possible. As well, we note the credential approved from the International Society for Performance Improvement allowing for ISPI issued certification of both managers and consultants in PDPM. Thanks again IFTDO!" 

See full report of the program impact here.

Further information on PDPM is linked here.