Thursday, 22 October 2009

3ie have published a paper comparing the way 5 countries set up their evaluation departments.

The authors discuss some interesting questions, like: how independent should oversight bodies be from government? what powers should evaluation departments have to enforce their findings?

They look in depth at Mexico, Colombia, Chile, South Africa and China - as well as briefly summarising the situation in Spain, UK and US.

One of their insights is that in the first 5 countries the pressure for evaluation comes largely from donors, but in the West it is the public that demands evidence-based policy.

It's quite right that the institutional mechanisms should vary between countries - there's no requirement for one-size-fits-all.

But it's also worth reflecting on the many problems which have arisen from the tendency of countries which are recipients of aid to respond to their paymasters, rather than their citizens.

It's crucial that evaluation departments establish their own communication channels with taxpayers and show they are independent of donors - as well as the government.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Exciting paper from CGD on a 'collaborative market' for aid.

One particularly interesting idea is that:
Aid institutions are in a kind of political equilibrium balancing the interests of donors and recipients. Reform efforts that simply move away from equilibrium will not be implemented or sustained, and may do more harm than good. To have effective and sustainable reforms we need to try to change the political equilibrium.

A sharp break (a revolution?) is needed.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

FOI on the international stage

Here's an important 'Approach paper' from the World Bank, which suggests major changes to the organisation's information disclosure policies:
This paper proposes consideration of a paradigm shift in the Bank’s approach to disclosure, from a policy that spells out what documents the Bank discloses (a “positive list”) to one under which the Bank would disclose any information that is not on a list of exceptions—a policy that would be more consistent with the Bank’s expressed presumption in favor of disclosure.

It's exciting to see an international organisation taking the initiative in favour of transparency, even if it faces short-term risks in doing so.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mad matrices

Here's my response to the IATI consultation on the proposed standard for publishing aid information:

Dear all

I am writing in response to the IATI's Consultation on Part 1 of the IATI standard.

My comment relates to the 5th category of information: 'Results data (indicators on output, outcome and results)'. In Appendix B both of the fields in this category are listed as being free text. Appendix C indicates that they are links to the results matrix and final results matrix respectively. My reading of this suggests to me that you do not therefore anticipate that the information contained in these matrices will be published as part of the standard - only the references (URLs?) pointing to those matrices will appear.

This seems to me a missed opportunity. I would emphasise the tremendous potential value in being able to compare the results and outcomes of different projects and organisations using the information as it appears in these matrices. This is extremely important information which could be used to identify successful initiatives and those which are failing, both across donors and countries.

I would like to suggest, therefore, that the IATI standard makes an attempt to include these matrices. I presume that the perceived difficulty of making the matrices that are used by different organisations compatible with one another has precluded their inclusion in the consultation document, but this is a shame. In an ideal world, the standard would contain a form of matrix which could be used by all projects and organisations. That way, researchers would be able to compare 'like with like'.

If this is too difficult, a middle ground would be simply to include the project matrices in the standard, even if different organisations use different types. Then at a later date researchers would be able to analyse and compare the matrices without having to format them.

Simply having a link to the matrices is really the worst option, as people will in reality find themselves following links to PDFs (from which data cannot be extracted), files which no longer exist, files in a wide variety of formats and so on.

I hope you find this comment useful and relevant. I look forward to seeing the final standard.

Yours sincerely

Francis Bacon

Monday, 12 October 2009

Interesting article on UK's aid spending in today's Times.

But what changes will the Tories make to aid spending when they come in? They've agreed to keep to the 0.7% promise but I suspect they won't be able to resist the temptation to exert greater political influence over the direction of spending. Perhaps DfID will come under the FCO and more spending in Afghanistan will be marked 'aid'?