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August 2018

"If I can’t do an impact evaluation, what should I do?” – A Review of Gugerty and Karlan’s The Goldilocks Challenge: Right-Fit Evidence for the Social Sector

David Evans's picture

Are we doing any good? That’s what donors and organizations increasingly ask, from small nonprofits providing skills training to large organizations funding a wide array of programs. Over the past decade, I’ve worked with a wide array of governments and some non-government organizations to help them figure out if their programs are achieving their desired goals. During those discussions, we spend a lot of time drawing the distinction between impact evaluation and monitoring systems. But because my training is in impact evaluation – not monitoring – my focus tends to be on what impact evaluation can do and on what monitoring systems can’t. That sells monitoring systems short.

Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan have crafted a valuable book – The Goldilocks Challenge: Right-Fit Evidence for the Social Sector – that rigorously lays out the power of monitoring systems to help organizations achieve their goals. This is crucial. Not every program will or even should have an impact evaluation. But virtually every program has a monitoring system – of one form of another – and good monitoring systems help organizations to do better. As Gugerty and Karlan put it, “the trend to measure impact has brought with it a proliferation of poor methods of doing so, resulting in organizations wasting huge amounts of money on bad ‘impact evaluations.’ Meanwhile, many organizations are neglecting the basics. They do not know if staff are showing up, if their services are being delivered, if beneficiaries are using services, or what they think about those services. In some cases, they do not even know whether their programs have realistic goals and make logical sense.”