INNOVATIVE THINKING
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REAL WORLD IMPACT

 

Recommendations for Congressional Task Force on U.S. Development Assistance

Friday, June 23, 2017
The Honorable Jeanne Shaheen & Todd Young
United States Senate
 

Dear Senators Shaheen and Young:

IMPAQ International (IMPAQ) congratulates the bipartisan effort and principles of the Congressional Task Force on Reform and Reorganization of U.S. Development Assistance in recognizing that development and diplomacy are critical investments for securing America’s future. Given the serious global challenges and threats facing the U.S. and the international community, we believe development reform is not only needed but necessary to effectively carry out U.S. development and national security objectives. 

As the Task Force formulates policy recommendations, we strongly urge you to prioritize reforms that strengthen and modernize monitoring and evaluation (M&E), a critical area of development reform that is essential to ensure greater transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of international development programs.

IMPAQ stands ready to support the work of the Task Force, including providing recommendations and expert support on M&E reforms and briefing the Task Force and Congress.

IMPAQ has been a leader in M&E sector with decades of experience conducting rigorous M&E projects in both the domestic and international space. Our focus has always been on producing the most rigorous and actionable evidence on what works in both international and domestic programs. The word “actionable” for us is key, as we strongly believe that any evidence developed on programs must be accessible to practitioners and the public and replicable in other contexts and environments around the world. At IMPAQ, we are firm believers that strong, independent M&E practices help Congress and the American people fully understand the impact of every dollar America spends on foreign aid and international development.

In our review of M&E policies developed by major U.S. foreign assistance agencies over recent years, we see some positive progress, but there is a need for an even greater commitment by U.S. agencies and departments to look critically at whether programs in Kenya, Ukraine, Jordan or the Philippines, for example are operationally feasible and whether they are having their intended effects and impacts.

Often, monitoring and evaluations conducted by U.S. international development agencies lack the appropriate funding, staff, and skills needed to design and implement rigorous evaluations that can produce actionable results. To address these deficiencies, we have developed a series of recommendations to improve the accountability and transparency of ID interventions and programs.

Recommendation #1 – Increase funding for independent, external, quality M&E of U.S. ID projects

  • U.S. funding for conducting rigorous M&E of ID projects has been woefully inadequate. Although some U.S. development agencies use a three percent rule of thumb for the allocation of M&E resources, our calculations of ID M&E expenditures show agencies rarely achieve this goal. Given this problem and the priority of producing quality M&E, we recommend that U.S. agencies and departments should be mandated to increase their level of spending on rigorous evaluations. Furthermore, we recommend that no less than 3 percent of total program dollars be allocated for external performance and impact evaluations.

Recommendation #2 – Establish a bipartisan Evidence Commission to develop a strategy for increasing the role of M&E in order to build evidence about US development assistance.

  • Similar to the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy (https://www.cep.gov/) we believe a commission should be developed to review the existing evidence on ID initiatives, programs, and interventions. This commission would develop a strategy to assess what works in ID. The commission would also make recommendations to the Congress on ways to strengthen M&E so that evidence developed through ID interventions is rigorous and actionable. Through the course of the new Commission’s work, nominated members will study how data, research, and evaluation are currently used to build evidence in ID, and how to strengthen the government’s evidence-building efforts.

Recommendation #3 – Strengthen the use of Adaptive Management Techniques (per ADS 201) to continuously improve the operation of U.S. development programs.

  • To achieve results in complex and changing environments, it is important that USAID Missions and Implementers of U.S. development programs evolve static program execution into rapid feedback loops so that continuous capture, learning, and adaptation are ingrained in project and activity delivery. Adaptive management seeks to improve project outcomes and practices through the systematic use of evidence emerging from the outcomes of previous implementation or management decisions in the project. It involves reacting and responding quickly to changes in the political and socio-economic operating environments as well as programmatic changes like budget, outcomes, and stakeholder feedback. Adaptive management requires flexibility, rapid approval of changes, willingness to give and receive stakeholder feedback, and the openness to accept potential failures and successes as learning.[1] These techniques allow projects to make critical adjustments to increase both operational feasibility and program outcomes.

Recommendation #4 – Create a USAID Evidence Clearinghouse that rates the rigor and quality of the evidence produced by ID evaluations.

  • USAID’s Development Experience Clearinghouse is a comprehensive repository of a wide range of ID project documents and evaluations from multiple entities. It is a useful resource to gauge the breadth of evaluations that have been conducted, but it does not indicate the rigor or relevance of the evaluation results. Similar to the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Clearinghouse for Labor Evaluation and Research (https://clear.dol.gov/), an evidence clearinghouse must be created that rates the rigor and relevance of ID evaluations. It is not enough to just list all of the evaluations and have them publicly available; rather the American people need to know whether the evaluations are reliable and actionable in other environments around the world.

Recommendation #5 – Create an Independent M&E Office to review and approve the allocation of all M&E dollars.

  • A trend in domestic U.S. departments and agencies has been to create independent evaluation offices to increase the rigor and relevance of evidence created by that agency. Given this, we recommend the creation of an independent M&E office that would report directly to the USAID Administrator and the Secretary of State. This office would work with each sub-agency to develop yearly M&E agendas that describe how each M&E dollar would be spent. This office would be led by a Chief M&E Officer that would review and approve all agency M&E plans. This model in domestic U.S. department and agencies has led directly to an increase in the development of rigorous and actionable evidence in the domestic space.

As stated earlier, IMPAQ stands ready to support the work of the Task Force including providing recommendations and expert support on M&E reforms and briefing the Task Force and Congress. Please let me know how we can help support this important work.

Sincerely,

Jacob Benus
Founder and Executive Vice President
IMPAQ International