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MFAN, Devex Launch New Series on Aid Effectiveness: Reform for Results

March 19th, 2015
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Today, Devex and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network are launching a new series on U.S. foreign assistance reform, Reform for Results. Last Spring, we released our policy paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, which laid out concrete goals the U.S. government could take to make U.S. aid work harder and achieve more. With this series, we will examine accomplishments to date and emerging opportunities in 2015. We believe that the time to push the envelope on key reforms is now as the Obama Administration moves into its final years, the U.S. considers its commitment to the next round of global development goals, and Congressional interest in ensuring aid dollars are well spent increases.

We start the series with a piece from MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette, which can be found here. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing new content to the Reform for Results website on our pillar issues of Accountability and Country Ownership and we encourage the community to engage in the series starting today using #Reform4Results on Twitter.

MFAN Welcomes Dr. Patricia Morris, President of Women Thrive Worldwide, as the Newest Executive Committee Member

March 13th, 2015
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March 13, 2014 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

MFAN is pleased to welcome Dr. Patricia Morris, President of Women Thrive Worldwide, as the newest member of the Executive Committee. Dr. Morris joined Women Thrive in January, coming from Development and Training Services, where she focused on promoting accountability and sustainability in development projects. Prior to that, Dr. Morris managed nine country offices for Women for Women International and worked at InterAction and Creative Associates International. She has worked closely with the U.S. government to advance initiatives empowering women and girls throughout her career.

Women Thrive Worldwide has long been committed to MFAN’s reform agenda. Their continued support, and the experience and expertise they bring to our network, is invaluable. Their work for women living in poverty worldwide is focused on advocating for the priorities that women decide are best for them. We look forward to Women Thrive’s contributions as we continue to push for greater accountability and country ownership to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in helping developing countries access a path to prosperity.

USAID and PEPFAR: Institutionalizing Local Ownership for Sustainability

March 12th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Justin Fugle, Senior Advisor for Policy and Program Outreach for Plan International USA. This piece originally appeared on Plan’s blog on March 9.

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Although the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Local Solutions is often associated with recently-departed Administrator Raj Shah, a panel discussion at Plan International USA’s office in Washington DC on March 3 made it clear that localization has deeper roots in the Agency and will continue. This is good news for aid effectiveness and for USAID itself, for Local Solutions is critical to USAID’s renewed influence in the wider development community.

As Counselor to the Agency, Susan Reichle acknowledged as much when she said, “For USAID to be the lead development agency, we need to put partnering locally front and center.”

Within the U.S. government, both the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) continue to break new ground on local ownership for sustainability. In the wider world, the same principles have been embraced and implemented by the Department for International Development (DFID), other European aid agencies, and in the consensus documents from Paris, Accra, and Busan. Increasingly, partner country governments are insisting that donors align with local priorities, and the in-country USAID Missions hear them. Local ownership is a central assumption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well. With all this in mind, the institutionalization of Local Solutions must be seen as a top USAID priority.

If Plan’s experience is any guide, institutionalizing local ownership requires a significant change in business practices and a radical shift in mindset. As donors and INGOs, we have to be willing to transfer our power to capable local actors and to be driven by their agendas. 

By doing so, we greatly increase the chances that the work will be scaled-up and sustained. Plan’s ex-post evaluations have found that when programs are jointly designed, implemented, and financed by Plan and local actors, the chance of sustainability increases significantly. During the panel, PEPFAR’s Director of Sustainability and Development Dr. Janis Timberlake agreed. 

“Our goal is programs that are locally managed, funded and implemented,” she said.

USAID Local Solutions Coordinator Liz Warfield further outlined the principles at work.

“Local Solutions is not just about [Implementation and Procurement Reform] it is using, strengthening, and partnering with local actors to achieve sustainable impact…. To fulfill USAID’s Mission of ending extreme poverty, we need to work with existing systems and not around them or against them…. In fragile states, they may need capacity development first, but even in fragile states, there are systems and we should use them…. [T]here is a clear role for international partners, but that is moving from a direct service delivery mentality to the role of broker and facilitator,” she said.

Warfield outlined a number of steps underway and planned within USAID to institutionalize this major shift. Among them is the revision of the ADS 200 Series, which is the mandatory and best practice guidance to the Missions on planning, programming, evaluation, and other key topics that significantly influence the final shape of USAID’s funding and management decisions. Other steps include staff training, staff incentives, and collecting evidence of the lasting impact of local ownership.

This last aspect is essential if Local Solutions is to survive into the next administration and beyond. Evidence is critical to support the assertions that local ownership truly increases sustainability, providing lasting benefits to the population. In that sense, one of the most significant announcements during the panel at Plan was Warfield’s explanation that USAID will collect evidence of the results of Local Solutions through mid-term evaluations, meta-evaluations, and ex-post evaluations three to five years after close-out.

As Warfield said, “The idea of ex-post evaluations will influence the way we do programming.” Rather than being satisfied with positive results at close out, USAID will move towards measuring success through sustainability. Quick but rootless gains will be exposed and practices that strengthen local systems will be favored. The axiom that what gets measured gets done mandates that if sustainability is the goal, then ex-post evaluations must join baselines, mid-terms, and finals as a standard part of USAID and PEPFAR’s program designs.

What We Learned: Looking Back at “Do More with Data”

March 6th, 2015
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Last week, MFAN and AidData, in cooperation with the State Department and USAID, hosted Do More with Data: Moving U.S. Government Aid Transparency Forward, an event that brought together internal and external drivers of U.S. government foreign assistance transparency to explore ongoing and new efforts for making data more readily available for more people. Following the event, we asked three of MFAN’s leading thinkers on transparency and accountability to share their takeaways from the event. See below for thoughts from George Ingram, Lori Rowley, and Diana Ohlbaum and see here for a Storify of the Twitter activity from the event.

George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair

A big takeaway from what was a very open and enlightening discussion is the contrast between the commitment and understanding by U.S. government foreign affairs officials of the importance of open data and the data “disarray” within those agencies.  Officials at the meeting advocated strongly for the value of transparency in foreign assistance data, and this advocacy is seen in the forward position the U.S. is taking in the international discussions around a post-2015 set of sustainable development goals. But, with the possible exception of the MCC, U.S. foreign affairs agencies are incapable of practicing that commitment. Agencies have multiple internal data systems that lack inter-operability and do not allow communication or sharing of data between agencies. U.S. agencies are good at tracking financial data – at feeding the accountants – but wholly inadequate in providing information of what is spent where, how, and with whom – on getting critical program data in the hands of program managers and stakeholders.

As one speaker put it, who are we to be telling developing country officials about open data.  It is good to see officials from the Department of State and USAID taking data transparency seriously, but, as someone suggested, there is still the problem of moving it up the chain of priorities – until it becomes a real priority, progress will be slow and inadequate.

Lori Rowley, Director, Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center and MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chair

There were a host of positives that came out of this event for me. First and foremost was the large number of people who took the time to attend and participate in the event, a reinforcement that data is relevant and useful to a host of people throughout the public and private sectors.  It was a full house!

Next, as the facilitator of a breakout session with Catherine Marschner of the MCC, the agency known as the leader within the U.S. Government on data transparency, I was reminded again of the vital role of leadership in accomplishing open data goals. As far ahead as the MCC is in reporting its data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), Catherine reminded the group that there are technical challenges that take time to work through in order to achieve reporting goals. The opportunity for a dialogue with Catherine among other agency representatives was also a great positive of the event.  Often agency representatives are working in a vacuum with regard to their data and reporting requirements and it is just one portion of their jobs, but the event gave them the venue to ask detailed questions, get recommendations for solutions, and support each other in their common goals.

Finally, just as we at MFAN regularly remind ourselves and others, demand for timely, reliable data must continue to grow in order for government managers to continue to see the relevance of ensuring its openness. This point was reinforced by government data managers at the event.

Diana Ohlbaum, Independent Consultant and MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chair

The event helped crystallize for me four separate types of open data needing focus.

The first is the one we are all familiar with: data that is collected but not published, often due to technical problems in extracting good data from existing systems.  In all likelihood, this will ultimately require the creation of new systems and processes for tracking foreign assistance activities and spending.

The second is data that is collected but not shared, such as the missing data from USDA, the Defense Department, and other agencies that have been less than forthcoming with the Dashboard requirements.  Although there are some technical issues at play here, what seems to be missing is a sense of urgency or priority on the part of these agencies.

The third type of missing data is one we are just beginning to grapple with: data that is not even collected by some agencies, such as project-level data.  This data will be needed not only to fulfill our IATI commitment, but also to provide the types of information that are most useful to local stakeholders, yet there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan in place to begin collecting it.

Finally, there is information that is already available and easily publishable, but not centrally collected, indexed, or linked to the Dashboard.  Most of this is what we call “unstructured data” – things like Country Development Cooperation Strategies, project descriptions, answers to Congressional questions for the record, and the wide variety of informational materials that Missions hand out locally.  Although they are not machine-readable or useful for high-level data analysis, these Word documents and PDFs can be extremely valuable to those trying to understand the granular details of a program, project, or policy.

While there are many small solutions, there is only one big solution: a demonstrated political commitment to open data, to using data as a management tool, and to full IATI compliance from the highest levels of each U.S. government department and agency.

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

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

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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.