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Archive for the ‘Obama Administration’ Category

Country Ownership Metrics: An Underdeveloped Field in Development

Thursday, June 4th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from former MFAN Country Ownership Working Group Co-Chairs Rodney Bent and Tessie San Martin.

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The annual funding of U.S. bilateral economic assistance is generally a lengthy process, from the President’s request at the beginning of the year to Congressional action over the summer and early fall.  These budget resources are precious and scarce, which is why Congress spends considerable time reviewing the request.  According to the State Department, the FY 2015 budget estimate for bilateral economic assistance was about $21 billion; for FY 2016, the President is requesting $21.7 billion. At whatever the final level of funding that the President and Congress can agree upon, the U.S. needs to use these resources to best effect in promoting good governance and economic growth, and reducing human suffering.

A key driver of the effective and sustained use of U.S. bilateral economic resources is country ownership.   While this statement is no longer controversial, there remains some disagreement about how best to define country ownership. A 2011 Interaction  publication on Country Ownership notes that: “…Although practitioners and researchers have confirmed that broad-based participation is critical to sustainability, there is a wide range of interpretations of the meaning of the term ‘country ownership.’” This lack of consensus about what country ownership means makes it challenging for donors to align around how to support it.

From our experience, we’ve seen that what gets measured gets done. This is why MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group asked the question: what do we know about and what do we want to see in terms of metrics for implementing country ownership?  Our efforts to identify metrics used the country ownership framework laid out in MFAN’s 2014 policy paper, The Way Forward: ownership of the priorities and resources for, and implementation of, development.  The result of these efforts was captured recently in a new MFAN paper, Metrics for Implementing Country Ownership. Below are a few highlights from this effort and the paper:

  • What to measure: outcomes or process? The answer may seem obvious, but think again.  For example, at Plan International, the ultimate measure of local ownership is when local authorities or the private sector or some combination fund an initiative that had been previously funded by Plan.  When this happens, Plan can step aside as a donor and exit a community.  But this takes a long time to nurture (10-15 years).  Plan can afford to be patient. Most donor funding cycles (dependent in some way on political cycles) are much shorter.  Due to this shorter cycle, it is no surprise that most measures look at process, something that can be watched immediately.
  • The role of proxy measures. Whether we are talking about outcomes or process, most of the things we want to measure (g., was the consultation process inclusive?) are really hard to observe directly.  Polling is an option, but it is expensive and the results can be ambiguous or even contradictory.  Perhaps over time mobile technology may make it more feasible – at least on key instances and purposes – and a number of organizations, including the World Bank, are testing this.
  • The importance of definition. Ownership of priorities is difficult to define, which therefore makes it difficult to measure. Every S. agency we spoke to in the process of building and refining the paper agreed that the diversity of views and the degree of inclusion in the process of designing or evaluating initiatives matters greatly for sustainability.  But how to measure the degree of consultation and inclusion in priority setting? If the most marginalized voices matter the most, how is this captured systematically in a measure?
  • Even measures that are seemingly easily quantifiable require a lot more refinement. Ownership of implementation has been the main focus of USAID Forward ’s procurement reform effort, specifically its target of having 30% all USAID acquisitions and procurements go through “local” organizations.  But one can oversimplify.  The recent Save the Children report (Tracking USAID’s Efforts on the Local Solutions Initiative) makes a number of excellent recommendations to refine this measure by including indicators like the value and percentage of project funds contributed by local institution and number of local institutions implementing sub-grants or sub-contracts. These additional measures could help ensure that USAID is better tracking the objective it is trying to promote.   But these are not always easy measures to impose, for example, in the context of the government’s existing data gathering and management systems.

We look forward to continuing the dialogue with the Administration and the community on the metrics we put forward in our paper, and on what else we should be considering.

Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

Thursday, May 21st, 2015
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Accountability Working Group Co-Chair, Diana Ohlbaum.

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A good evaluation will tell you whether a program achieved its intended results.

A better evaluation will tell you why.

But the best evaluation will tell you whether those were the right results — for the people they were intended to help.

As the global development community has begun to get serious about conducting evaluations, they have tended to focus so heavily on accountability to funders that they have often overlooked accountability to beneficiaries.  And all too often, this means findings and results that may be technically accurate, but functionally invalid.

For instance, as Carlisle Levine and Laia Griñó explain in a thoughtful new paper for InterAction, “when practitioners and evaluators listen, they might hear that, yes, shelters were provided, but the materials used were inappropriate for the climate, or the placement of the shelters reinforced community divisions, rather than helping to bridge them.”  If you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get the right answers.

That’s why locally owned programs demand locally owned evaluations.  Program participants must be involved from the very start in defining what counts as success, as well as in monitoring program implementation and evaluating results.  Yet until now, calls for greater country ownership have focused almost entirely on program design and implementation, while overlooking monitoring and evaluation.  At USAID, for example, there has been little integration of the robust evaluation policy with the Local Systems Framework, which embraces a vision of development that is “locally owned, locally led, and locally sustained”.

To the extent that there has been local participation in evaluations, it is generally limited to using local communities as sources of data once a project is complete, or including local staff on evaluation teams.  Only rarely are the evaluations led and managed by local evaluation professionals.  But most importantly, partner country government institutions, civil society organizations, and beneficiary communities are given little role in designing the questions that will be asked or the indicators by which success will be measured.  As a result, unintended impacts, both good and bad, are often missed.

One exception is an approach being piloted by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), whose quick-response and “just do it” culture was once quite resistant to any kind of evaluations.  Now, rather than just hiring an outside evaluator at the end of a project, who may spend a couple of weeks in the country and know little about the place or the program or the context, OTI is working with local evaluators from the very beginning to monitor results throughout the program cycle.

Local participation in evaluations not only ensures that outcomes are measured properly; it can also improve those outcomes.  The InterAction paper cites a study comparing the use of standard “expert-developed” scorecards to community-developed scorecards to monitor schools in Uganda.  The researchers found that introducing a participatory monitoring process, in and of itself, helped improve pupil test scores and reduce pupil and teacher absenteeism because community members felt a greater stake in holding schools accountable.

It’s time for the international development community to move beyond the concept of local “buy-in” and embrace the principle of local authorship.  By giving participants a meaningful role in evaluation – and, as the InterAction report reminds us, by ensuring that those evaluation findings are used to inform decision-making – we can make our assistance more effective, and make development more sustainable.  Doing so will require a few adjustments to the program cycle, and InterAction helpfully provides guidelines on how to put these principles into practice.

MFAN Welcomes Important Reform Elements in the Senate Global Food Security Act of 2015

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
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May 12, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network

MFAN is pleased to see that the Global Food Security Act of 2015 (S. 1252), recently introduced by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), includes important reform elements that would help strengthen accountability mechanisms and promote greater country ownership of U.S. foreign assistance programs related to food security and global agricultural development.

Most notably, the legislation promotes accountability by requiring that specific and measurable goals and benchmarks are set and that monitoring and evaluation plans be created that reflect international best practices related to transparency and accountability. The legislation also requires the establishment of mechanisms for reporting results in an open and transparent matter, including how findings from monitoring and evaluation have been incorporated into program design and budget decisions. In addition, the bill requires that reporting on progress be made publicly accessible in an electronic format in a timely manner.

The legislation also demonstrates a commitment to principles of country ownership. It requires support for the long-term success of programs by building the capacity of local organizations and institutions and by developing strategies and benchmarks for graduating target countries and communities from assistance.

We applaud the bill sponsors for the inclusion of these elements as they are essential to ensuring greater effectiveness and sustainability of U.S. global food security and agriculture programs. However, we believe the legislation could be made even stronger in several ways. First, the coordinating function within the U.S. government should be given to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as our principal development agency and as the lead agency on the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative. Second, the legislation should specify that local, developing country institutions should be the first option for implementing programs where appropriate capacity and conditions exist. Third, the amount of U.S. assistance authorized by the bill should be determined by locally-driven priorities and plans.

We look forward to working with Congress to ensure the reform elements in the bill are strengthened.

U.S.-based NGOs Oppose Costly Changes to Cargo Preference That Cut U.S. International Food Aid Programs

Friday, May 1st, 2015
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The organizations listed below are extremely concerned about the potential negative impacts of Section 303 of H.R. 1987, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2015, which would provide the Secretary of Transportation the exclusive authority to unilaterally apply cargo preference rules on programs run by other departments and agencies, and ignore the outcomes of important interagency consultations. We are concerned that Section 303 could have a further detrimental effect on food aid programs and could lead to additional inefficiencies and costs, in terms of wasted resources and greater risk to human lives.

The Department of Homeland Security has previously warned that similar language needlessly increases the risk for programmatic inefficiencies and on-the-ground operational problems.  We are concerned that the unilateral control proposed in Section 303 would expand the Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) authority, allowing MARAD to exercise exclusive authority over how that cargo preference must be applied within critical food aid programs. MARAD’s legally mandated mission is to “strengthen the U.S. maritime transportation system […]” – a mission that reflects neither the importance of cost efficiency nor the impact on critical humanitarian responses.

With natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Nepal and the ongoing crisis in Syria stretching humanitarian funding thin and 805 million people around the world going hungry every day, we must make every food aid dollar count.  We cannot afford to make U.S. food aid more costly or risk diverting more funding toward shipping costs instead of life-saving assistance. Legal authorities provided to the Administration should be ensuring transparent and effective use of taxpayer dollars so that resources are allocated to feeding more vulnerable people, not less.

U.S. food aid saves millions of lives each year.  Therefore, the undersigned organizations remain opposed to the content of Section 303, and we urge the Congress to reject any actions that hamper the reach and effectiveness of food aid programs by increasing transportation costs and eliminating transparency of the process that establishes implementing regulations for cargo preference.

  • American Jewish World Service
  • The Borgen Project
  • Bread for the World
  • CARE USA
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Church World Service
  • Global Poverty Project
  • InterAction
  • Mercy Corps
  • Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network
  • ONE
  • Oxfam America
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Save the Children
  • World Food Program USA

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MFAN Co-Founder Gayle Smith Nominated as Next USAID Administrator

Thursday, April 30th, 2015
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April 30, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette:

MFAN applauds today’s announcement by the White House that Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the National Security Council, has been nominated as the next USAID Administrator. Smith, a Co-Founder of MFAN, has long been a champion of the aid effectiveness agenda while ensuring development is an equal pillar of U.S. foreign policy. In her role at the NSC, Smith has ensured development has a strong voice at the policymaking table, while helping to foster a more robust interagency dialogue and coordination around development efforts. We are pleased to see the White House nominate a strong and experienced leader to take the helm at the U.S. government’s lead development agency.

In her time at the National Security Council, Gayle Smith was instrumental in the creation of the first-ever Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, which focused on reestablishing the U.S. as the global leader on international development by rebuilding USAID’s capacity and modernizing our approach to development. The policy directive also paved the way for USAID’s sweeping reform agenda, USAID Forward. Through this agenda, USAID has made dramatic steps in recent years to strengthen its ability to deliver results for the American people and for people in developing countries around the world. As the new USAID Administrator, we hope to see Smith maintain, if not accelerate, the momentum around implementing and institutionalizing the key reforms of the USAID Forward agenda and to ensure the continued elevation and inclusion of development alongside defense and diplomacy.

A permanent USAID Administrator is essential to sustaining strong U.S. leadership on development programs. As we cautioned in our open letter to the President earlier this month, when the Administrator position was vacant in 2009 for nearly a full year, USAID and its programs suffered. With less than two years remaining in the Obama Administration, we urge the Senate to now swiftly confirm Gayle Smith so that we can continue to advance U.S. development goals and the aid effectiveness agenda.