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Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

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

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.

Round-up: Community Welcomes News of the Nomination of Gayle Smith as Next USAID Administrator

May 1st, 2015
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President Obama announced this week 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. We are pleased to see the White House nominate a strong and experienced leader to take the helm at USAID. See below for a round-up of MFAN partner statements. In addition, see here for a blog post from Oxfam’s Paul O’Brien and here for a Devex article featuring MFAN Honorary Co-Chairs and former Representatives Jim Kolbe and Howard Berman and MFAN Principal Ritu Sharma.

USGLC CEO Liz Schrayer: Gayle Smith is the right person to continue the game-changing transformations at USAID that are critical to advancing America’s economic and security interests. Throughout her career, and particularly over the past six years at the National Security Council, Gayle has played a critical role in driving reform-minded policies that are central for delivering results to American taxpayers while making a world of difference.

CGD President Nancy Birdsall and Senior Policy Analyst Casey Dunning: We hope for the same sense of urgency from the US Senate in confirming the President’s nominee. It’s critical to have an Administrator with a Congressional mandate and development expertise. Smith knows development after years working in Africa, and she knows how the US government works – or not – after years in the White House. She was a key architect of signature initiatives, like Feed the Future and Power Africa, that a revitalized USAID launched in the last several years — initiatives designed to crowd-in private sector investment to poor countries prepared to undertake business-friendly reforms.

Bread for the World President David Beckmann: I expect the Senate to move quickly to approve Gayle Smith’s appointment. It’s important to the implementation of urgently needed aid programs, and global poverty is an issue on which Congress and the president are on the same page.

Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser: We are eager and ready to work with Ms. Smith to continue the modernization efforts afoot at USAID that will have a lasting impact on global poverty and that, over time, will enhance US moral standing and national interests and ultimately build a safer world for all. Ms. Smith will bring a powerful voice, vision and leadership to the agency.  We urge the Senate to quickly confirm her to ensure American leadership in fighting poverty does not suffer.

The Lugar Center President Senator Richard G. Lugar (Ret.): I was pleased to learn from the White House today that the President will nominate Gayle Smith, currently a Senior Director at the National Security Council, as the next Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Smith’s experience and expertise in both international development and in reforming aid to strengthen its impact make her an excellent selection for this important post.

Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles: Gayle Smith has a wealth of experience, both from inside and out of government, to bring to bear in shaping USAID’s leadership for these summits. We look forward to working with her, and the rest of the Obama Administration, to support bold American leadership on ending extreme poverty and the preventable deaths of children, as well as ensuring the world does much more to prevent and respond to the suffering of people in Nepal, Syria, and the many other humanitarian crises around the world. Gayle Smith has been a leader on initiatives to make US international development assistance more efficient and effective, and she reflects the compassion that all Americans have for children and families in need.

Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer: Gayle Smith distinguished herself during the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. But that’s just the most recent example in her long and distinguished career as an effective policy maker and advocate on humanitarian and development issues. Her combination of policy, advocacy and operations makes Smith an especially strong leader for USAID. We are living in a particularly challenging time, in which the number and intensity of humanitarian crises is stretching our community’s ability to respond,” says Keny-Guyer. “Because of her experience, Gayle understands that the U.S. government must renew its focus on holistic, multi-sector, multi-year programs that address the root causes of vulnerability.

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

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

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.