When is the rigorous impact evaluation of development projects a luxury, and when is it a necessity?
This is a question asked in a new paper examing the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), a high profile initiative that, according to its web site, offers a "bold, innovative model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty".
In the words of one of the authors of When Does Rigorous Impact Evaluation Make a Difference? The Case of the Millennium Villages, "We show how easy it can be to get the wrong idea about the project’s impacts when careful, scientific impact evaluation methods are not used. And we detail how the impact evaluation could be done better, at low cost." The paper underscores the importance of comparing trends identified within a project activity with those in comparator sites if one is to determine the actual impact of a specific project. This sentiment should come as no surprise to those familiar with an area of exploding interest in the international donor and development community -- that of the usefulness of randomized evaluations.