blog logo image

Archive for the ‘USAID’ Category

Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

Thursday, May 21st, 2015
Bookmark and Share

See below for a guest post from MFAN Accountability Working Group Co-Chair, Diana Ohlbaum.

***

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
Bookmark and Share

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.

MFAN Co-Founder Gayle Smith Nominated as Next USAID Administrator

Thursday, April 30th, 2015
Bookmark and Share

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.

MFAN Welcomes Second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
Bookmark and Share

April 29, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette:

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the release of the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. MFAN welcomes the new QDDR and is pleased to see a strong emphasis on enhancing the use of data to promote “greater accountability for strategic planning and programs” and the reaffirmation of USAID as the U.S. government’s lead development agency.

The 2015 QDDR builds on the work of the last review with an aim of prioritizing reforms that will make U.S. development and diplomacy “stronger and more effective for years to come,” said Secretary Kerry at Tuesday’s launch announcement. The review focuses on four key areas: preventing and mitigating conflict and violent extremism; promoting open, resilient, and democratic societies; advancing inclusive economic growth; and mitigating and adapting to climate change. Strengthening U.S. policies and programs in these areas will make U.S. diplomacy and development more effective at advancing U.S. interests.

What is especially innovative in this second QDDR is the focus on the use of data, diagnostics, and technology, which comprise a cross-cutting theme in each of these four areas. The review states that data “will play a greater role in policy and decision-making, planning, monitoring and evaluation, and program development.” In addition, the review highlights the importance of improving expertise in strategic planning, budgeting, project management, and monitoring and evaluation.

In addition to the clarion call for State and USAID to better use and analysis of data, the report prioritizes advancing transparent and accountable governance.  Both agencies should immediately put these policies into action, and demonstrate their commitment to data and transparency.  An easy first win is to take the steps necessary for them to meet their commitments to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) to make U.S. assistance data publically available, comprehensive,  and easily accessible.

It is promising to see this new QDDR emphasize the importance of building internal capacity at the State Department and USAID in the area of monitoring and evaluation, and the value of harnessing knowledge, utilizing data, and promoting innovation and learning to improve our development and diplomacy. MFAN hopes that this focus on data use will also include greater information sharing with U.S. taxpayers and beneficiaries in our partner countries in particular, so that citizens can hold their own governments to account in leading their own development. As USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt said on Tuesday, USAID is now seeing unprecedented levels of transparency, which is helping to drive greater accountability. We have been encouraged by USAID’s efforts to utilize and share data and hope to see the State Department take similar steps in implementing the second QDDR.

MFAN would also like to recognize the manner in which Tom Perriello, former member of Congress and, for the past year, Special Representative for the QDDR, carried out the review.  We were pleased to see an open, consultative process that reached out to a broad range of stakeholders beyond the U.S. government to seek their ideas and input.

Building the Foundation for Self Sufficiency

Thursday, April 16th, 2015
Bookmark and Share

See below for a guest post from Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research at Save the Children.

***

This week, thousands of policymakers are meeting in Washington for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Spring Meetings. This year’s Spring Meetings include discussions on a vast range of issues: Recovering from the recent Ebola outbreak, global infrastructure development, and migration and remittances are just some of the topics that will be discussed.

While many focus on international foreign assistance and global finance when they think of the World Bank and IMF, this year there is a strong emphasis on domestic resource mobilization (DRM). DRM has several definitions, but one way to think about it is, “The generation of savings from [developing nations own] domestic resources and their allocation to economically and socially productive investments.” Basically it’s about developing nations’ generating their own resources to fund poverty reduction, economic growth, and other social sectors like health and education.

In fact, foreign assistance (ODA) is dwarfed by the potential resources that can be generated by developing countries themselves through raising funds through their own domestic mechanisms, including taxation.

Given the massive financing demands of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will be  adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September, there is now widespread consensus that ODA is not enough to eliminate poverty, and that these goals will primarily need to be reached through developing nations’ generating their own resources.

In middle-income countries, tax revenues already provide more financing than ODA. For lower-income nations to meet the SDGs, they must improve their collection and spending of domestic revenue.

Many nations have a long way to go on this front.

Half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa collect less than 17 percent of their GDP in taxes while in upper-income countries the percentage is 35 percent.

Research by Save the Children finds that if developing nations could mobilize a minimum of 20 percent of their GDP in tax revenue it would have a major impact on reducing child deaths and contributing to countries’ health and education systems.

This prioritization of DRM in nations’ development strategies also facilitates the strengthening of a country-driven development agenda. As countries generate more of their own resources for development, they are less dependent on external funding. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf states that many nations now seek to, “Reorient the development paradigm away from externally driven initiatives towards domestically inspired and funded initiatives.”

But the potential for nations to mobilize domestic resources is mixed, and particularly for lower developed nations, building the capacity to generate more revenue, requires initial international assistance.

In some cases, ODA and DRM can be complementary. For example, international donors can provide assistance to a developing nation’s tax gathering and administering agencies to build their revenue collection skills.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has had an extensive program of DRM assistance in Georgia. This program focused on reducing corruption and revising its tax and customs codes. As a result of the program Georgia’s tax revenue increased.

Developing nations also need international cooperation and assistance when it comes to combatting illicit financial outflows (IFFs) which also steal potential tax revenue for potential use on poverty reduction programs and projects.  IFFs can occur through tax evasion, tax avoidance, or theft. Globally, IFFs represent as much as 4 percent of lost GDP.

Finally, donors can support advocacy efforts of local civil society to empower citizens to voice their priorities to their governments, and to hold their governments accountable for delivering results.

Happily, these issues will be front-and-center during the Spring meeting with civil society sessions on cracking down on shell companies and several World Bank and IMF sessions focused on fiscal management and tax evasion.

It may be counter-intuitive, but developing nations – both governments and civil society — need initial international assistance to build up their own revenue-generating capacity. With some international help, over the long run developing nations’ will be better able to direct and fund their own development priorities.