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Archive for the ‘USAID’ 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.

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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.

Another step forward by USAID on the road to aid transparency

Monday, July 6th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Sally Paxton, U.S. Representative for Publish What You Fund and member of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group, on USAID’s recently released IATI Cost Management Plan. This piece originally appeared on PWYF’s blog on Monday, July 6.

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On July 1st, Publish What You Fund released its 2015 U.S. Aid Transparency Review, which assesses the progress of six U.S. donors on their efforts to publish high quality aid information.  The Busan deadline – December 2015 – is when the U.S. has committed to fully implementing the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).  And important commitments are at stake in the Financing for Development conference in mid-July in Addis Ababa.  So at Publish What You Fund, we thought a mid-year progress report would be an important undertaking to see where these U.S. agencies are and what needs to be done in the next six months.

The Review found that the progress of the various agencies was mixed – only two of the four are “on track” to meet the 2015 deadline.  For a number of years, USAID has lagged in its performance of our Annual Transparency Index, coming in at the bottom of the “Fair” category in both 2013 and 2014.

But USAID is turning an important corner.  In our 2015 Review, it was the biggest improver, jumping 22 points from its 2014 score to reach the “good” category for the first time.  Behind this improvement was the effort of a small cross-cutting working group.  Consistent with USAID’s Open Government Plancommitment to undertake both an analysis of its IATI capabilities and what it would take – both in terms of resources and steps – this working group produced a four-phase cost management plan.

On June 4th, the Acting Administrator approved three out of the four phases of the plan.  Additionally, the intent is to have IATI folded into its Development Information System, so that it is integrated with its other information platforms, thus obviating the need for Phase IV.  And on July 1st, USAID made its International Aid Transparency Initiative Cost Management plan public.

Kudos!

One might sensibly ask why what seems like such a bureaucratic exercise is important?  There are a few reasons – which cover both the content and the way in which USAID is conducting its efforts to achieve robust publication of its aid information:

  • In order to implement the IATI standard, agencies need to identify what it publishes, where the gaps are, and what it will take to be fully compliant, both in terms of resources and processes. The working group approached this in a pragmatic way. In fact, phase I (which were internal steps that could be taken without resource implications) was completed in April – before the approval of phrases II and III. This thorough internal review will help to ensure efforts are sustainable and long lasting.
  • The working group consulted with the stakeholder community on its initial plan – prior to agency approval. This informal outreach underscored the agency’s commitment to practice
  • This same practice of consulting prior to a final report was also done in connection with USAID’s Aid Transparency Pilot Assessment, where two consultations were held – again, prior to reaching the final conclusions.

The plan isn’t perfect.  The published cost management plan, for example, is very light on the “cost” part.  And publishing a plan doesn’t guarantee success.  But it is very hard to deliver without a vision on how to get to the finish line. Top USAID leadership will need to give the working group’s plan its continued support so that implementation moves forward on time and on budget.

But this is a really positive step.  So congratulations to USAID.  We look forward to your continued forward progress on the road to aid transparency.

Broad Coalition Calls on U.S. Senate to Confirm Gayle Smith as USAID Administrator

Monday, June 15th, 2015
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Broad Coalition Calls on U.S. Senate to Confirm Gayle Smith as USAID Administrator

June 15, 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, along with a broad coalition of international development organizations, policy experts, and the private sector, is calling on the U.S. Senate to swiftly confirm Gayle Smith as the next permanent USAID Administrator. Having a Senate-confirmed appointee at the helm of USAID is essential to advancing U.S. development goals and optimizing the use of U.S. foreign assistance resources. As we cautioned in our open letter to the President in April, when the Administrator position was vacant in 2009 for nearly a full year, USAID and its programs suffered.

Gayle Smith is a strong and experienced leader and is well-equipped to further implement and institutionalize important reforms at the U.S. government’s lead development agency. Smith has long been a champion of the aid effectiveness agenda while ensuring development has a strong voice at the policymaking table. In her time as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy, Smith has helped to foster a more robust interagency dialogue and coordination around U.S. development efforts.

At a time when we are responding to global crises in places like Nepal, Syria, and Yemen, and with the Millennium Development Goals expiring and a new set of goals taking their place, the United States cannot afford to be without a strong, permanent USAID Administrator to lead our engagement and represent our development interests internationally.  We are pleased to see that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for this week and urge a swift confirmation process in order to sustain strong U.S. leadership on development programs and the accountability of our foreign assistance.

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.