Placing evaluation at the center of U.S. foreign aid

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I just saw the news that a piece of legislation was introduced last month in the U.S. House of Representatives to overhaul American foreign aid. The mainstream media seems oddly quiet about it (I checked Factiva but came up with very little coverage.) I was pleased to see that one section of the bill (called the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009) lays out what appears to be a serious evaluation agenda as part of the reform (starting on page 7):

The President shall develop and implement a rigorous system to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of United States foreign assistance. The system shall include a method of coordinating the evaluation activities of each Federal department or agency primarily responsible for carrying out United States foreign assistance programs with evaluation activities carried out by other such Federal departments and agencies, and when possible with other international bilateral and multilateral agencies and entities.

The bill goes on to lay out the specifics of the evaluation agenda, including the establishment of an annual evaluation plan and a foreign assistance evaluation advisory council. I had to wonder if they were really serious when I got to the section on definitions - we are informed that "the term 'outcome and impact evaluation' means an assessment of the impact and outcome of the outputs of a program, project, or activity." The final section of the bill also calls for complete transparency in the aid system.

I'll say this much - I agree wholeheartedly with the thrust of the bill. I don't doubt that some will inform me that in practice it simply won't work. Perhaps. But my view - for the moment, as I haven't had time to look it over thoroughly - is that at least with a rigorous evaluation program coupled with transparency it'll be a little bit harder for aid actors to hide failures.

On the downside, I saw no mention of the role that markets have to play in alleviating poverty. How long until the evaluators catch on to that one?

If you're interested in getting more info, you may also want to check out this entry on the Huffington Post and this event at the Center for Global Development.


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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