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Archive for the ‘MCC’ Category

ACCOUNTdown Reviews USAID Effectiveness to Build for Future

Monday, August 10th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Nora O’Connell, Associate Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children and Co-Chair of MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group.


Recently, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) launched the ACCOUNTdown campaign and scorecard to push for greater aid effectiveness reform by the Obama Administration.  ACCOUNTdown focuses on the U.S. government’s progress to strengthening its international development programs’ accountability and country ownership.

The ACCOUNTdown report highlighted a range of improvements by various U.S. development agencies and departments. We welcome these incremental shifts, but with just less than a year and half left in this Administration, we want to see more.

We know from Save the Children’s own work that embedding accountability and ownership in programs can have an impact on the ground. Whether it is health, education, or nutrition programming, the most lasting impact occurs when local potential is nurtured to enable countries and communities to achieve their own aspirations. Aid can and should do that better. Here are four things that could make a difference now.

  • Too much USAID funding is still being driven by priorities set by the U.S. government in Washington, rather than aligned with host-country strategies. When aid is driven by Washington, then Washington funding goes away, so does a lot of the progress. But when aid is part of a partnership with local communities, governments and civil society, then the results are not only continued by the people in those countries – they are magnified.
  • The introduction of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative in 2010 set a target for increased direct flows of U.S. government resources to developing countries. But partnership is more than that; USAID must start measuring how it’s increasing local capacity more broadly.
  • The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) was created in 2004 in part to enable more country-driven approaches; their country compact development process is a good example of aligning with host country priorities. MCC should work to increase the use of country systems and local partners in high-performing countries to extend country ownership.
  • The U.S. government has made progress in helping countries finance their own development and should continue to do so. This was illustrated in the announcement of the Addis Tax Initiative and PEPFAR’s launch of the innovative health financing initiative which reflect how the U.S. is supporting domestic resource mobilization for development.

The U.S. government can take many additional steps in the next 18 months to further its commitment to country ownership and accountability to have a greater impact through its on-the-ground programming.

As an active MFAN member, we look forward to future progress reports from the ACCOUNTdown campaign as a way to ensure the Obama administration honors its commitments to aid effectiveness.

Want to Know What We Got for Our Money? MCC’s Telling Us.

Friday, April 24th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Accountability Working Group Co-Chair, Diana Ohlbaum.


In this space back in February, I suggested a list of ways for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to advance its thought leadership and boost its development effectiveness.  One of those ideas was to conduct “after-action reviews” to provide an honest look at what did (or didn’t) happen during a compact, why (or why not), and how to improve next time.

True to form, less than a month later the MCC responded by publishing its first “compact closed” page, in this case with respect to Mozambique.  The page has a lot to recommend it: a concise summary of the amounts promised and spent; the dates of compact signature, entry into force and completion; a break-down by project area; the total number of beneficiaries; the changes made during the term of the compact; the key compact indicators, targets, and results for each project; the policy conditions; and links to all the key documents, including constraints analysis, evaluations and scorecards.

This is an extremely useful way to look at the big picture of MCC’s results, particularly for Congressional staff who don’t want to have to wade back through years of notifications and justifications to understand how the project changed over time and what they got for their money.  It answers the important question of “What did this compact achieve?”, which is not ordinarily addressed by evaluations, Inspector General investigations, or Government Accountability Office reports.  My only quibble with the page is that it shows the results according to the adjusted targets rather than the initial goals, which gives an unfairly rosy picture of how the compact was implemented.  The Center for Global Development’s Sarah Rose also helpfully suggests that the page include information on policy impact.

I hope, as well, that this effort was not entirely an exercise in packaging information for the public, but also included a very detailed and substantive de-brief from those who worked on the program, with an eye to identifying best practices and lessons learned.  Although this should happen continuously throughout a compact’s duration, compact closure is an important opportunity to ask questions like:  What do you know now that you wish you had known at the start? What were the most burdensome processes and requirements, and how did you manage them?  If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

Such a review would be different from an independent evaluation in that it would draw directly from the perceptions and experiences of the staff and local partners who were most closely involved, and not necessarily be designed for public consumption.  This type of learning is essential for an organization whose personnel are hired for their specific country knowledge, subject-matter expertise and language skills, and often leave when the compact is complete rather than assuming a new post within the MCC.

Some of these lessons may be too sensitive to be trotted out in public, or too context-specific to be of broader value.  But some of the feedback – from MCC’s local staff and partners as well as its direct hires — could be summarized in a way that is helpful to other organizations, inside and outside government, working in the same countries or on similar projects.

Although it may not be obvious to the user, the “compact closed” page required an enormous amount of effort from the MCC, with dozens of people and multiple departments involved in developing content, writing code, creating charts, designing new layouts and styles, and extracting data.  It’s the template for similar pages forthcoming on other completed compacts, which will be a useful resource for the entire development community.  From my perspective, this is a noteworthy step forward on transparency as well as a valuable tool for assessing overall results.

MCC: A Pat on the Back, and Then a Push

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Diana Ohlbaum, Co-Chair of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group


When in 2013, the Millennium Challenge Corporation was ranked #1 in the world on Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index, it provoked as much trepidation as pride.  What do you do when there’s nowhere to go but down?

The MCC has spent most of its 10 years blazing a trail to broader country ownership, greater transparency, and a sharper focus on results.  But staying in the lead may prove harder than seizing it.  Sarah Rose and Franck Wiebe’s thoughtful and well-researched analysis of the MCC’s model explains its successes and challenges, and makes detailed suggestions for improvement.  Adopting many of these recommendations could help MCC stay at the forefront of development effectiveness.

To their excellent list, I would add the following ideas, which are admittedly more of a stretch:

  • Threshold Program.  In their focus on policy performance, Rose and Wiebe correctly note the lack of clarity about this program’s rationale and metrics for success.  Instead of either sharpening its current focus or eliminating it entirely, as the authors suggest, how about trying something new: using it to help countries establish a “clean”, well-functioning, transparent, and accountable procurement agency through which their own government, as well as external donors, could channel funds?  Using local systems is a critical element of country ownership, but finding systems that meet even the most rudimentary standards of public financial management can often be difficult.  Even if the MCC did not subsequently sign a compact with a country, creating an entity that was truly accountable to the public would help the government attract aid and investment and responsibly spend its own resources.  And the government’s degree of success or failure in building such an entity, with MCC’s help, would be a good measure of political will for reform.
  • Second Compacts.  If the MCC’s ultimate goal is to help countries “graduate” from assistance (which was the initial concept behind the compacts, as a transitional step from aid to trade), then one thing we ought to expect is that countries complete the program with the capacity to spend resources responsibly.  Every country must deal with problems of corruption, but if a government is unable to build a road without losing half the money to graft or is unable to pay the teachers it hires and make sure they show up at their jobs, then both growth and stability will be at risk.  Given that the pool of candidates for second compacts is growing, what about adding a requirement that second compacts must be spent directly through a country’s own systems – thereby increasing the focus during first compacts on public financial management, and weeding out those countries that have not made sufficient progres
  • Contract Transparency.  MCC was built with transparency “in our DNA”, making not only its budget and results public but also its selection criteria, country scorecards, and compacts.  What would keep MCC in the vanguard and do wonders for accountability would be to publish the texts of all its contracts, and require that partner countries do the same (at least for contracts financed by the MCC).  Knowing the overall amount spent and the nature of the project is essential information for civil society, but knowing who is carrying out each activity, in which locations, to what specifications, under what conditions, according to what timeline, and at what cost, helps even more.  That information is contained in contracts, and American taxpayers as well as intended beneficiaries are entitled to know it.  It also provides a valuable monitoring tool to ensure that contractors are performing as promised in real-time, rather than waiting to find out about problems during an audit or evaluation, when they may be too late to fix
  • After-Action Reviews.  Pioneered by the U.S. Army, this kind of de-brief is designed to provide an honest look at what did (and didn’t) happen during the operation, why, and how to improve next time.  While MCC’s commitment to rigorous impact evaluations is impressive and welcome, these don’t tell the MCC – or more importantly, Congress – whether the compact as a whole was successful.  No doubt, if these reviews are to be fully candid then there would need to be a “sanitized” version for public release, but having a clear view of what we initially hoped to achieve, how and why that changed during the process, and what we would do differently, would earn MCC another gold star as a learning organization.  This is something already under consideration at MCC, but whether they are willing to measure performance against the original standards and targets is yet to be determined.

Changes like these could not only improve the MCC’s own performance and outcomes, but raise the bar for everyone else.  With a forward-looking new CEO at the helm, this is an opportunity for all of us to think big.

Making Aid Transparency a Reality

Thursday, February 12th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair. This piece originally appeared on the Brookings blog on February 11.


With many development organizations, both government and non-government, working to introduce greater transparency—in data, policy formulation, and program assessment—it is an important time for the development community to take stock of the lessons learned by agencies that have lead in this arena.

With this in mind, Brookings and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) recently held a public discussion on aid transparency. The discussion was built around a new paper by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) setting out the organization’s experiences in implementing aid transparency.

We were fortunate to host a panel comprising the key transparency experts in four of the lead organizations—Aleem Walji (World Bank), John Adams (U.K. Department for International Development (DFID)), Theo van de Sande (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MinBuZa)), and Beth Tritter (MCC). For context, in the 2014 Aid Transparency Index, DFID scored second, MCC third, the World Bank seventh, and MinBuZa 19th (out of a total of 68 agencies surveyed).

The session focused on two fundamental aspects of transparency: the value proposition for transparency, and the obstacles and incentives to implementation—the “why” and “how” of aid transparency.

Why Do We Care About Aid Transparency?

The fact that transparency promotes accountability is the most common understanding as to why transparency is important. In development work there are multiple sets of stakeholders to be accountable to, including taxpayers, implementing partners, recipient country governments and citizens, and the agency itself.

Transparency facilitates donor accountability to the most immediate stakeholders by providing taxpayers with information that reveals what the agency is doing and how well it is doing it. Public oversight is most often conducted by researchers, the media, and the legislature. Several of the panelists noted that making data public provides stakeholders—they had in mind the press and parliamentarians—with information that is readily accessible and conveys how assistance is used, allowing them to better appreciate both the specifics and broader context of aid provision, and thereby creating a more supportive environment for assistance.

Increasingly, however, donors are coming to understand that they also are accountable to intended beneficiaries in recipient countries. This same information allows beneficiaries and stakeholders in recipient countries to assess the use of assistance, except that local stakeholders need a greater level of detail about project implementation.

Not only does making data available allow citizens to hold donors accountable, it provides an incentive for donor organizations to hold themselves accountable as they know that what they do and how they make decisions can be reviewed by the public.

Transparency can contribute to better decision-making. It provides information on what agencies are doing so outside experts and stakeholders are more knowledgeable and can provide better informed input. MCC, for example, makes public both the data it uses to determine country eligibility and the results from crunching that data, so anyone can use the same data to check the results and provide feedback. When implemented in a truly open fashion, outside input can produce better informed decisions.

Transparency facilitates local ownership. How can you have real local engagement and ownership of development programs if local organizations and stakeholders lack basic information? Transparency can fill this gap. It provides data and information that allows local entities to be active participants in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of assistance programs. It provides information, not just to citizens, but also to recipient ministries, which often are in the dark on development agency activities in their country.

Transparency promotes market intelligence and facilitates coordination. If all donors share their information, the development community as a whole will have a clearer understanding of what other development agencies are doing and will be able to identify what has worked and what has not worked. Coordination is almost impossible in countries that are the focus of tens of donor agencies and hundreds of projects—it is just not feasible to get all the right people in the same room and sift through all the requisite material. But, if everyone publishes timely, comprehensive data in a common format through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), anyone can learn what other donors are doing in a particular sector or region of a country. Coordination then becomes possible.

Transparency improves competition. More complete market information leads to better, fuller competition. And not just competition in the development arena, but also in the broader marketplace as it provides the private sector with data and information it can deploy in its business operations.

What does all this add up to? More effective use of assistance resources—a goal towards which we all should be striving.

Overcoming Obstacles to Greater Transparency

The discussion of obstacles and incentives to aid transparency focused on political will and organizational culture, reporting systems and technology and software, and costs.

All participants agreed that political leadership was critical to their organizations moving ahead on aid transparency. In each case there was political leadership of the highest order, in one case from the head of state, and for all organizations from the agency head.

While political leadership is essential, it is not sufficient. It must be accompanied by a supportive culture in the organization. It is imperative that the internal audience understands and owns the use of the data—if they do not appreciate that the data and its public availability can be of benefit to them, they will not support transparency. The natural state of bureaucracies is to “hug” data—keep it internal. It is natural for bureaucracies to be fearful of revealing data and information—fearful it will be used by the media and parliamentarians to expose weaknesses. It is essential to (i) overcome this fear, and (ii) demonstrate that the data is useful for agency program management. Overcoming the fear requires leaders who are willing to risk making data public. In the case of the three bilateral agencies represented at the event, the fear dissipated once data was released, including in the case of the MCC evaluations that revealed mixed results. To quote one of the panelists, “the silence was deafening.”

Reporting systems and technology and software to integrate financial and program data are always an issue. But the clear message from the experience of these four organizations is these issues can be difficult but by no means insurmountable, so long as there is strong political leadership and a supportive culture in the organization. An important instrument for overcoming systems and technology hurdles, and at the same time for building a supportive bureaucratic culture, is to ensure that the issues are tackled and solutions found through a team approach that includes experts from the program side who use and analyze data, the data crunchers, and the technology experts. Working together they come to understand the value and role of each party and build an understanding of the value of aid transparency.

In fact, the DFID participant on the panel offered up the DFID transparency tool to anyone who wanted to use it. That is a generous offer that other agencies should consider as a way to build on the DFID experience and knowledge.

A key challenge frequently raised is the potential cost of aligning systems and upgrading technology and software to be able to publish agency data to IATI. Interestingly, when the question was put to the panel, the response was that the cost to implement transparency was minimal to modest, not huge.

The Need for More Political Will

The bottom line for these experienced practitioners of open data is that political will and leadership are critical to transparency efforts, as is the need to foster a culture of collaborative data use. In looking at the principal U.S. government agencies involved in providing assistance, MCC was fortunate to have had transparency built into its founding structure and strong political leadership on transparency, which the new head of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) is now bringing to that program.

There has been good leadership at the highest political level—President Obama has been very clear and articulate on government transparency, and the White House and Office of Management and Budget have issued several directives mandating open data. But evidence of political will and leadership from other U.S. agencies has been worryingly scarce. Until that happens—and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review offers the most immediate opportunity—those agencies will continue to muddle along on aid transparency.

MCC: Moving Forward by Looking Back — Lessons Learned on Transparency

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
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Please see below for a guest post from MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chairs, Diana Ohlbaum and Lori Rowley. Ohlbaum is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Rowley is the Director for Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center.


This week one of the federal government’s youngest agencies, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), will once again demonstrate its leadership and forward thinking on accountability and transparency.  After ten years of experience, and with a new Chief Executive Officer at its helm, the MCC is launching a series of events examining what it has learned and what it has accomplished.   This period of reflection will help MCC seize the opportunity to consolidate its gains and stake out the vanguard in data-driven, locally-owned and self-sustaining development.

The test of true leadership, however, is in the extent to which others are motivated to follow.  To inform and inspire the rest of the United States Government, as well as other donors and development practitioners, the MCC this week will release a paper on transparency as part of its “Principles into Practice” series. The new paper details not only the reasons behind making transparency a core principle of MCC operations – such as providing checks against corruption, building public confidence, increasing coordination, and supporting informed participation – but also some of the limits and risks to full disclosure.  For instance, there may be personally identifiable information contained in data sets, national security information contained in meeting notes, or procurement-sensitive information in planning documents.  By demonstrating how it balances these risks, and by describing its systems to ensure that data is reviewed and released in a timely, responsive and accessible manner, the MCC performs a valuable service for governments and civil society alike.

On Friday, February 6, at 10:00 am, MFAN and the Brookings Institution will co-host an event highlighting the MCC’s efforts to make its operations more transparent and accountable.  Following a presentation by Beth Tritter, the MCC’s new Vice President for Policy and Evaluation, representatives of the World Bank, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs will discuss the challenges they faced, lessons they learned, and best practices they identified for sharing data and opening their processes.  Among the MCC’s key findings are the need for committed leadership and the importance of generating demand for data.  We encourage MCC’s new CEO, Dana Hyde, to carry forward the agency’s high standards in being transparent.  And since accountability requires not only transparency and use of data to support improved outcomes but also feedback, participating in this event and putting MCC’s data and information to the test is one way that we can all help the MCC put its principles into practice.