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What do we know about the long-term legacy of aid programmes? Very little, so why not go and find out?

Duncan Green's picture

We talk a lot in the aid biz about wanting to achieve long-term impact, but most of the time, aid organizations work in a time bubble set by the duration of a project. We seldom go back a decade later and see what happened after we left. Why not?

Orphaned and homeless children being given a non-formal education at a school in IndiaEveryone has their favourite story of the project that turned into a spectacular social movement (SEWA) or produced a technological innovation (M-PESA) or spun off a flourishing new organization (New Internationalist, Fairtrade Foundation), but this is all cherry-picking.  What about something more rigorous:  how would you design a piece of research to look at the long term impacts across all of our work? Some initial thoughts, but I would welcome your suggestions:

One option would be to do something like our own Effectiveness Reviews,  but backdated – take a random sample of 20 projects from our portfolio in, say, 2005, and then design the most rigorous possible research to assess their impact.

There will be some serious methodological challenges to doing that, of course. The further back in time you go, the more confounding events and players will have appeared in the interim, diluting attribution like water running into sand. If farming practices are more productive in this village than a neighbour, who’s to say it was down to that particular project you did a decade ago? And anyway, if practices have been successful, other communities will probably have noticed – how do you allow for positive spillovers and ripple effects? And those ripple effects could have spread much wider – to government policy, or changes in attitudes and beliefs.

Thinking about stakeholder risk and accountability in pilot experiments

Heather Lanthorn's picture

ACT malaria medicationHeather Lanthorn describes the design of the Affordable Medicines Facility- malaria, a financing mechanism for expanding access to antimalarial medication, as well as some of the questions countries faced as they decided to participate in its pilot, particularly those related to risk and reputation.

I examine, in my never-ending thesis, the political-economy of adopting and implementing a large global health program, the Affordable Medicines Facility – malaria or the “AMFm”. This program was designed at the global level, meaning largely in Washington, DC and Geneva, with tweaking workshops in assorted African capitals. Global actors invited select sub-Saharan African countries to apply to pilot the AMFm for two years before any decision would be made to continue, modify, scale-up, or terminate the program. One key point I make is that implementing stakeholders see pilot experiments with uncertain follow-up plans as risky: they take time and effort to set-up and they often have unclear lines of accountability, presenting risk to personal, organizational, and even national reputations. This can lead to stakeholder resistance to being involved in experimental pilots.

It should be noted from the outset that it was not fully clear what role the evidence from the pilot would play in the board’s decision or how the evidence would be interpreted. As I highlight below, this lack of clarity helped to foster feelings of risk as well as a resistance among some of the national-level stakeholders about participating in the pilot. Several critics have noted that the scale and scope and requisite new systems and relationships involved in the AMFm disqualify it from being considered a ‘pilot,’ though I use that term for continuity with most other AMFm-related writing.
In my research, my focus is on the national and sub-national processes of deciding to participate in the initial pilot (‘phase I’) stage, focusing specifically on Ghana. Besides being notable for the project scale and resources mobilized, one thing that stood out about this project is that there was a reasonable amount of resistance to piloting this program among stakeholders in several of the invited countries. I have been lucky and grateful that a set of key informants in Ghana, as well as my committee and other reviewers, have been willing to converse openly with me over several years as I have tried to untangle the reasons behind the support and resistance and to try to get the story ‘right’.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance: Part 3
Brookings Institution
How do digital technologies affect governance in areas of limited statehood – places and circumstances characterized by the absence of state provisioning of public goods and the enforcement of binding rules with a monopoly of legitimate force?  In the first post in this series I introduced the limited statehood concept and then described the tremendous growth in mobile telephony, GIS, and other technologies in the developing world.  In the second post I offered examples of the use of ICT in initiatives intended to fill at least some of the governance vacuum created by limited statehood.  With mobile phones, for example, farmers are informed of market conditions, have access to liquidity through M-Pesa and similar mobile money platforms.

Cashing in: why mobile banking is good for people and profit
The Guardian
Using digital finance to tackle development problems can improves lives, and offer innovative companies handsome rewards. Whether it is lack of access to water, energy or education, development professionals are well versed in the plethora of challenges facing billions of people. The traditional approach to solving these problems has been to think big – in terms of the millennium development goals, government aid programmes, or huge fundraising campaigns. But there are dozens of startups and larger companies with innovative ideas who are approaching these challenges in new ways using digital finance.

‘Relevant Reasons’ in Decision-Making (3 of 3)

Heather Lanthorn's picture

This is the third in our series of posts on evidence and decision-making; also posted on Heather’s blog. Here are Part 1 and Part 2
In our last post, we wrote about factors – evidence and otherwise – influencing decision-making about development programmes. To do so, we have considered the premise of an agency deciding whether to continue or scale a given programme after piloting it and including an accompanying evaluation commissioned explicitly to inform that decision. This is a potential ‘ideal case’ of evidence-informed decision-making. Yet, the role of evidence in informing decisions is often unclear in practice.

What is clear is that transparent parameters for making decisions about how to allocate resources following a pilot may improve the legitimacy of those decisions. We have started, and continue in this post, to explore whether decision-making deliberations can be shaped ex ante so that, regardless of the outcome, stakeholders feel it was arrived at fairly. Such pre-commitment to the process of deliberation could carve out a specific role for evidence in decision-making. Clarifying the role of evidence would inform what types of questions decision-makers need answered and with what kinds of data, as we discussed here.