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It’s time to improve the ‘Value for Money’ toolkit, and not junk it

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

 Julio Pantoja / World BankThe ‘results agenda’ of donor agencies have inspired several heated debates. Value for money is one of the main tools that helps further this agenda. There is significant pressure on donor development agencies to ‘demonstrate’ what they have achieved (results), and further, examine whether these results have been achieved in a cost-effective manner (‘value for money’). This pressure to demonstrate ‘value for money’ often leads to plenty of frustration, as those designing and implementing aid programmes struggle to strike a balance between what is easy to prove versus the complex nature of an intervention designed to tackle a real-world problem.

There are several problems with the results agenda – development interventions take place in a wide range of contexts, that lend themselves to comparisons on some counts and not, on others. These contexts change every day, and certainly over the lifetime of a development project, and attempting a grand theory or mathematical formulae to capture the entire process is nearly impossible.

Besides technical problems, there are valid fears that focusing too closely on ‘value for money’ will lead development workers to focus on ‘bean-counting’ and preferring interventions that can be easily measured and whose costs and benefits are easy to estimate. Some researchers have gone further and argued that an obsession with such metrics essentially forces development workers into lying about how their projects actually work.

Toward a linked and inclusive economy

Jim Yong Kim's picture
The arrival of broadband internet is set to significantly improve medical services in Tonga. © Tom Perry/World Bank.
The arrival of broadband internet is set to significantly improve medical services in Tonga. © Tom Perry/World Bank.

While some studies predict automation to eliminate jobs at a dizzying rate, disruptive technologies can also create new lines of work. Our working draft of the forthcoming 2019 World Development Report, The Changing Nature of Work, notes that in the past century robots have created more jobs than they have displaced. The capacity of technology to exponentially change how we live, work, and organize leaves us at the World Bank Group constantly asking: How can we adapt the skills and knowledge of today to match the jobs of tomorrow?
 
One answer is to harness the data revolution to support new pathways to development. Some 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated every day from cell phones, sensors, online platforms, and other sources. When data is used to help individuals adapt to the technology-led economy, it can make a huge contribution toward ending extreme poverty and inequality. Technology companies, however well intended, cannot do this alone.

To close the gap in women’s land rights, we need to do a better job of measuring it

M. Mercedes Stickler's picture
A woman holding her land certificate in rural Zambia. © Jeremy Green
A woman holding her land certificate in rural Zambia. © Jeremy Green

There is broad global agreement that secure property rights help eradicate poverty and that securing women’s land rights reduces gender inequality. But our understanding remains strikingly limited when it comes to the extent to which women’s land rights are – or are not – secure and the impact of women’s tenure security (or lack thereof) on women’s empowerment.

This is true even in Africa, where the most studies have been published, due to shortcomings in both the quality and quantity of research on these questions.

Building benchmarks for infrastructure investors: a long but worthwhile journey

Sarah Tame's picture


Photo: User 377053 | Pixabay

The Argentinian presidency of the G20 opens this month and will be marked by a focus on infrastructure investment. The G20 and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have already announced a widescale data collection initiative to create benchmarks to monitor the risk-adjusted financial performance of private infrastructure debt and equity investments.

It’s about time.

Investors have hit a roadblock when investing in infrastructure. Until now, none of the metrics needed by investors were documented in a robust manner, if at all, for privately held infrastructure equity or debt. This has left investors frustrated and wary. In a 2016 survey of major asset owners by the EDHEC Infrastructure Institute (EDHECinfra) and the Global Infrastructure Hub, more than half declared they did not trust the valuations reported by infrastructure asset managers. How, under such conditions, can the vast increases in long-term investment in infrastructure by institutional players envisaged by the G20 take place?

What 15 seconds can tell you about a classroom

Daphna Berman's picture




The first time a World Bank education team tried classroom observations in Brazil, it nearly provoked a state-wide teachers’ strike. It was October 2009 in the northeast state of Pernambuco and two members of the team, Barbara Bruns and Madalena Dos Santos, had handed out stopwatches to school supervisors newly trained in using the Stallings “classroom snapshot” method to measure teacher activities.

Two days later, the stopwatches were on the front page of Pernambuco’s leading newspaper: the teachers’ union called for a state-wide strike to protest an evaluation tool they dubbed the “Stalin method.”

“I thought the grant money we had used to train observers was down the drain,” recalled Bruns, a World Bank retiree now a visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development. “But the governor, Eduardo Campos, was unfazed.  He publicly declared: ‘No one is going to stop me and my secretariat from going into public schools to figure out how to make them better.’  The union backed down and the fieldwork went ahead.” 

Migration, Remittances and Diaspora Data: Need for International Cooperation

Sonia Plaza's picture
In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18

Despite that several countries have made a call of action for enhancing data collection and capacity building of the national statistical systems to improve migration data, there has not been much progress. The High Level on International Migration in 2013 “emphasized the need for reliable statistical data on international migration, including when possible on the contributions of migrants to development in both origin and destination countries.”

Feeding the craving for precision on global poverty

Francisco Ferreira's picture

Online pundits, hurried journalists and policymakers love precision. They crave numbers. Preferably exact numbers; ranges suggest uncertainty and make them anxious. As a result, they will love the World Poverty Clock (WPC), a new website that claims to track progress towards ending global poverty in real time (see also this blog and Financial Times article). The website tells you that 632,470,507 people are currently living in extreme poverty - or were, on December 6 at 10:00am… Even more amazingly, the site claims to forecast poverty at any point in the future until 2030, the deadline for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. By scrolling along the elegant timeline on the bottom of the WPC screen you will learn, for example, that in 2028, 459,309,506 people will be living in extreme poverty!

Latest from the LSMS: New data from Malawi, measuring soil health & food consumption and expenditure in household surveys

Vini Vaid's picture

 

Message from Gero Carletto (Manager, LSMS)

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA) in Muscat, Oman, where I joined a panel discussion on how global survey initiatives like the LSMS or Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) can help us measure and monitor many of the SDG indicators. We also discussed how global initiatives like the UN Statistical Commission’s Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys (ISWGHS) can help coordinate these efforts and position the household survey agenda within the global data landscape. Everyone seems to agree that monitoring more than 70 SDG indicators will require high-quality, more frequent, and internationally comparable household surveys. Yet, the narrative on household surveys continues to be lopsided. In my view, this is partly because strengthening traditional data sources like surveys and censuses is seen as outmoded and ineffective when compared with the more glittering promises offered by alternative data sources like Big Data.

At the risk of sounding like a luddite, I believe that it’s important for countries and donors alike to continue investing in household surveys to both validate and add value to new types of data. In many of the countries we work in, leapfrogging to the digital revolution without having gone through an analog evolution may be an ephemeral proposition. This in no way means that we should continue doing things the same way: during the past decade, household surveys have evolved dramatically, increasingly relying on technological innovation and new methods to make survey data cheaper, more accurate, and more policy relevant. Methodological and technological innovation remains at the core of the LSMS’s raison d’être and, together with our partners, we will continue pushing the frontier. Until more robust and fully validated alternatives materialize, household survey critics may want to recall the old saying, “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em!”

Project monitoring in fragile places does not have to be expensive

Andre Marie Taptue's picture



Conflict and violence are shrinking the space for development at a time when donors are scaling up their presence. To reconcile the conflicting objectives of staff safety with a need to do more (or a greater volume of investment), and doing it better (through higher quality projects), many development workers have started to rely on third party monitoring by outside agents, an approach that is costly and not always effective.
The case of Mali demonstrates that alternatives exist.

Less than a decade ago Bank staff could travel freely around in Mali, even to the most remote communities in the country. But today, a mix of terrorism and armed violence renders field supervision of projects impossible in many locations.

To address this challenge—and in the wake of the 2013/14 security crisis in northern Mali—a monitoring system was designed that is light, low cost, and suited for monitoring in insecure areas, but also problem oriented and able to facilitate improvements in project implementation.

Seven tips for conducting field research in education

Kabira Namit's picture
An elementary student with an enumerator in Wewak, Papua New Guinea. (Photo: Kabira Namit / World Bank)


So, you are about to start field research in education. Whether you are planning a randomized control trial or a quasi-experiment, hopefully these tips may help!
 
Devote time and energy towards recruiting and training enumerators (your survey personnel). Someone once said that training enumerators is 95% of the battle in conducting good field research. I would argue that that would be dramatically underestimating its importance. The enthusiasm and perseverance of the enumerators makes or breaks all the hard work that has gone into designing the experiment. And so, in general, devoting at least a week to training them and letting them pilot the tool is essential. I find that reminding enumerators of the higher purpose behind the study really helps as well – in a small way, our shared work is helping improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for children across the world and that’s something that they should rightfully take pride in.


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