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results agenda

So What do I take Away from The Great Evidence Debate? Final Thoughts (for now)

Duncan Green's picture

The trouble with hosting a massive argument, as this blog recently did on the results agenda (the most-read debate ever on this blog) is that I then have to make sense of it all, if only for my own peace of mind. So I’ve spent a happy few hours digesting 10 pages of original posts and 20 pages of top quality comments (I couldn’t face adding the twitter traffic).

(For those of you that missed the wonk-war, we had an initial critique of the results agenda from Chris Roche and Rosalind Eyben, a take-no-prisoners response from Chris Whitty and Stefan Dercon, then a final salvo from Roche and Eyben + lots of comments and an online poll. Epic.)

On the debate itself, I had a strong sense that it was unhelpfully entrenched throughout – the two sides were largely talking past each other,  accusing each other of ‘straw manism’ (with some justification) and lobbing in the odd cheap shot (my favourite, from Chris and Stefan ‘Please complete the sentence ‘More biased research is better because…’ – debaters take note). Commenter Marcus Jenal summed it up perfectly:

Four cheers for the “results agenda"

Adam Wagstaff's picture
Photo © Dominic Sansoni / World Bank

The development community hasn’t exactly only just woken up to the fact that development is about achieving something. Projects have had logframes since time immemorial, showing how project activities and spending are expected to lead ultimately to development outcomes—things that matter to people, like health and learning. But the “results agenda” (an agenda that dates back to 2003 but which seems to be gaining momentum) has the scope to be transformative in at least four ways.

1) Work backwards, not forwards
First, it invites us to work backwards from these things that matter and think about alternative ways to achieving these outcomes. Take education. A lot of projects in the Bank and other development agencies have focused on building and rehabilitating schools, with the expectation that this will lead to higher school enrollments. And yet as my colleague Deon Filmer showed a while ago, proximity to a school has very little effect on the likelihood of a child enrolling in school. By contrast, as he and Norbert Schady showed in another paper, providing scholarships to poor children does increase enrollments.

Communication and the Results Agenda

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The newly launched IEG Annual Review of Development Effectiveness 2009 attests the World Bank a significant increase in development effectiveness from financial year 2007 to 2008. After a somewhat disappointing result last year, 81 % of the development projects that closed in fiscal 2008 were rated satisfactory with regard to the extent to which the operation's major relevant objectives were achieved efficiently.

One crux remains: the measurement of impact. Monitoring and evaluation components in development projects are by far not as frequent as IEG would wish: Two thirds of the projects in 2008 had marginal or negligible M&E components. Isabel Guerrero, World Bank Vice President of the South Asia Region, listed several reasons at the launch of the IEG report this week: the lack of integrative indicators, the Bank's tradition to measure outputs instead of outcomes, the lack of baseline assessments in most projects, and reluctance on the clients' side to realize M&E in projects.

The “How to” of the Results Agenda

Antonio Lambino's picture

While there may be multiple entry points to doing development work, they should all lead to the same obvious place.  That is, of course, reducing poverty and suffering in the world.  For people in development and related fields, working toward these lofty goals requires the tenacity toward achieving results, willingness to be monitored and evaluated, and commitment to continuously enhance one’s technical competence and personal effectiveness.

CommGAP recently met with representatives of the African Community of Practice on Managing for Development Results (AfCoP-MfDR).  On its website, AfCoP describes itself as a virtual community that “promotes learning and knowledge exchange among public managers, organizations, executing agencies and practitioners on how to manage better for Development Results.”  The community has over 500 members from over 32 African countries, working in government, civil society, and the results practice areas.  Online discussions revolve around five substantive areas of managing for results: leadership; M&E; accountability and partnerships; planning and budgeting; and statistical capacity.