Posted on December 2, 2011 by Franck Wiebe, Chief Economist, MCC
This blog entry was first posted on Devex.com.
Six years after the signing of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the question of how to enhance aid impact remains highly relevant as most of the largest donors reconvene in Busan.
The Millennium Challenge Corp. is a relative newcomer to the foreign assistance community. Described in principle at Monterrey in 2002 and established by U.S. legislation in 2004, MCC was designed to embody many of the Paris Declaration principles. MCC’s experience of putting these principles into practice suggests three ideas that deserve continued attention: better focus of aid dollars within countries, better assessment of the rationale for aid programs, and stronger commitment to evaluating the impact of aid programs.
Better focus of aid programs within countries
Donors have improved coordination amongst themselves in many countries, reducing overlap and competition, but the pattern of assistance remains scattered and diffused. In most countries, the array of donor activities may be consistent with broad national development plans, but the aggregation of efforts by development agencies only rarely reflects anything close to a strategy.
This approach misses the opportunity to focus on the most important development challenges that need to be tackled first while unintentionally imposing a greater burden on partner country governance structures. The right strategy for any country cannot be to invest in public sector capacity building in every office; rather, a better strategy is for country governments to work with development agencies on a more limited set of well-defined priorities.
Identifying the appropriate priorities remains a challenge, given that country development plans are broad and far-reaching. MCC has found the data-driven “growth diagnostics” framework to be extremely helpful for sifting through the national development plans to laser in on the most critical challenges facing a country. MCC collaborates with country counterparts to ensure that the results are understood and accepted by both parties, and has found that some countries embrace these analyses, using them to prioritize their own strategies well beyond the scope of the MCC compact and to frame their engagement with other donors.
By now, all agree that country partners need to own and drive this prioritization process. Indeed, aid dollars can be successful only when supporting the reform of domestic institutions and policies undertaken by choice by country partners. Consequently, aid programs need to be connected to explicit, public commitments made and owned by our partner governments.
These pieces come together to build a strategy for more effective and more focused aid: Partner countries identify a small set of development priorities (addressing the binding constraint to economic growth usually needs to be one – in most contexts, serious poverty reduction requires growth); partner countries identify a series of commitments to policy and institutional changes to address the existing problem; and only then can aid programs be aligned in a meaningful way in support of these reforms.
Assess cost-effectiveness before funding
“Stretching aid dollars” requires a new level of discipline from development agencies and country partners. The practice of benefit-cost analysis fell out of favor – it takes time, data, and technical competence, and unfortunately is vulnerable to political interference (both local counterparts and aid agencies often have agendas of their own) – but needs to be reinstated as an essential tool for assessing trade-offs and opportunity costs. We need to start with the recognition that any good idea has a price at which it is no longer a good idea. Partners should not enter into programs before conducting an objective comparison of the value of benefits to the total cost of delivering them.
MCC has found that such analyses are possible for the vast majority of programs proposed to us by our partner countries. Not surprisingly, we find that some proposed investments cannot be justified given the estimated costs and projected benefits. Such information usually leads to further work on the program design, but sometimes leads to the search for alternative approaches to the same problem or to other priorities that can be tackled in a cost-effective manner. In this way, we have found at MCC that the technical discipline imposed by benefit-cost analysis improves the quality of the portfolio, where quality is explicitly described as delivering measurable results. The principal idea is inescapable: If we wish to enhance aid impact, we need to be willing to scrutinize every significant effort, asking the same fundamental question, is this proposed activity worth the money and effort being invested?
Some may object that such an approach stifles innovation – it need not. Where ideas have never been tried before, development partners can enter into small-scale pilots and rigorous experiments designed to generate information that can be used to assess the potential for scale-up. MCC has built such experimentation into several of its country programs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s new Development Innovation Ventures is another promising mechanism. But the current clamor for increased innovation should not serve as an excuse for not conducting proper due diligence, using logic and evidence, to assess whether the new idea has any prior basis for expecting cost-effective results.
Invest in more, and more rigorous, impact evaluations
Just as more analysis is needed before development activities are funded, more analysis is required after they are completed to determine what was accomplished and what was not. MCC has found that establishing high expectations and budgeting appropriately – often in the range of 2-4 percent of the total program budget – creates an environment within which independent evaluations of impact can be conducted as part of the core implementation plan. Collecting baseline data that covers expected beneficiaries and the appropriate control population is possible when it is required.
The cost and effort is substantial, but so is the value. Credible and rigorous impact evaluations – including but not limited to randomized control trials – serve three important functions:
First, they impose a discipline on the program development side. The benefit-cost analysis may describe the anticipated program impacts, but when evaluation is seen as part of the design process, program planners are given the opportunity to assess whether the planned intervention can plausibly be expected to deliver as promised, and if not, what modifications are needed to improve the chances for success.
Second, they are an essential element of a learning agenda that seeks to inform not only future donor programs, but also – and more importantly – future public expenditures and practices by our developing country partners. Moreover, the increasing availability of results from impact evaluations pushes donor agencies and country partners to establish mechanisms that reinforce the learning process.
Third, such evaluations are a necessary part of the transparent accountability process through which all relevant parties assess whether they used scarce resources appropriately. MCC has embraced this responsibility to its funders – the U.S. Congress and American taxpayers – and expects its country partners to commit to the same level of transparency locally. In this way, the evaluation of aid projects can help strengthen the processes through which government actors can inform their citizens about accomplishments and citizens can hold their government officials accountable for prudential use of public resources.
Already a backlash is occurring in some circles, with the term “randomista” sometimes used as a term of criticism. Some critics have written that this “fad” has gone too far. This negative characterization is both untrue and unfortunate. Although MCC funds rigorous independent impact evaluations for close to half of the projects in our portfolio, many other agencies still have few or none. Clearly, there is still room in the development community for greater investments in rigorous evaluations. MCC has found, too, that such “impact evaluation thinking” can inform our less rigorous performance evaluations; we hire credible independent evaluators and ask them to consider the counterfactual and recognize that not all change can be attributed to our programs.
The Paris Declaration created a useful starting framework that describes the processes related to program effectiveness that donors should adopt. But even as we adopt these processes, we need to ensure that we are delivering effective programs – the two are not necessarily synonymous. Busan provides us an opportunity to develop an improved results-focused agenda explicitly aimed at shifting resources from ineffective programs toward the problems that matter most using the most cost-effective delivery mechanisms. Such an agenda goes well beyond “managing for results” rhetoric and establishes a new standard of actually delivering results.
The tools described above are known and available to donors and their country counterparts, and their use could dramatically improve our performance. Developing countries should demand that donors increasingly apply these tools; we should demand no less of ourselves.
Posted on December 1, 2011 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer, MCC
The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness took place this week as government leaders from over 150 countries gathered to discuss progress made on donor promises to tackle global poverty. These discussions started with the Paris Declaration in 2004, then the Accra Agenda for Action in 2008 and continued in Busan. Delegates talked about “ownership,” “mutual accountability” and “outcomes.” Ownership is about countries determining and driving their own development priorities. Mutual accountability means we work in partnership—as donor and recipient countries—to achieve development solutions and share responsibility for successes and failures. And as partners, we are committed to delivering tangible outcomes and meaningful impacts–the ultimate result of any assistance.
MCC's Sheila Herrling, Daniel W. Yohannes, and David Weld participate in discussions at this week's 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.
Achieving results was a major theme that weaved through discussions at Busan. Results-focused aid is a shared objective. Yet, an interesting set of questions around “how” and “for whom” remains. Who defines results? How are they obtained? Do process results no longer matter? Are we measuring results for donors, for recipients or for both? MCC brings much to the table in terms of putting a results-focused assistance program into practice. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in her speech at the forum’s opening ceremony, MCC is a pioneer in measuring results. Some thoughts based on our experience at MCC:
First, how we pursue a results-focused approach matters. Country ownership is bigger and deeper than consultations around a national development strategy. As MCC Vice President Sheila Herrling mentioned during Tuesday’s Results Thematic Session, a big part of that ownership is how countries include civil society in results setting and results monitoring, and how countries and donors find ways to share that information transparently and accessibly with the public. During my remarks at the Results Plenary, I stressed that inclusive, country-driven development must embrace the voices of women because we know gender equality is key to development effectiveness. Efforts to more purposefully examine how a results agenda can strengthen country systems and institutions will ultimately lead to better and more sustainable outcomes.
Second, focusing on outcomes and impact is absolutely the right approach. That said, we should not lose sight of monitoring and evaluating policy reforms and intermediate targets, which help us establish the path to outcomes and impact. At MCC, we embrace an innovative “continuum of results” — tracking, measuring and publicly communicating results along the entire lifecycle of each country-determined program we fund, from inputs, to outputs, to policy reforms, and ultimately to measurable outcomes for beneficiaries. We count interim milestones met along the way because each one brings us a step closer to reaching the program goal. MCC’s continuum of results also includes post-program impact evaluations to help us improve accountability, determine if observed outcomes are attributable to MCC’s investments and to learn whether programs were designed correctly. Because MCC’s continuum of results is built on transparency and critical learning, it becomes a tool for assessing what works and does not work in development and what can be improved for the future.
Third, the question of “results for whom” got a lot of play in Busan. To be accountable to their own citizens, partner countries must answer this often difficult question and demonstrate how development resources are used and what results they achieve. As we discuss our drive for positive results, we must never lose sight of what an actual result means for ordinary men and women around the world. Ayesha Otibo, the chairwoman of a farmer-based organization comprised of 50 female rice processors in Ghana, received training on ways to develop her business and increase crop production. Ghanaian pineapple farmers, like Tony Botchway, used MCC support to seek new markets. Andre Soui-Guidi, a business owner in Benin, is now able to access credit in order to expand his operations and create more jobs for his fellow citizens. At the same time, we cannot and should not ignore the fact that results matter also for the taxpayers of donor countries who, even during these challenging economic times, want to continue funding for development. Our ability to demonstrate that their investments are paying off—that developing countries are improving governance and democratic rights, assistance is reaching the poor, and investments are yielding positive returns--is critical to sustaining strong development cooperation.
Lastly, international events like Busan tend to focus on what hasn’t been achieved. That’s fine in terms of accountability and the need to keep progressing toward commitments. But, let’s remember the real advancements made, including by the United States. Major U.S. development efforts—from the multilateral development banks, to Feed the Future, to Partnership for Growth, to MCC—all emphasize inclusive, country-led, outcomes-focused approaches. For MCC’s part, we look forward to continuing our work to break new ground in advancing and innovating on development effectiveness, and putting principles in this area into practice.
Posted on December 1, 2011 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer, MCC, and Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
This post first appeared on DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State, on November 30, 2011.
Under an initiative called Partnership for Growth, the United States, El Salvador, Ghana, Philippines and Tanzania are pioneering a new approach to long-term, sustainable development.
PFG is designed to transform the character and conduct of our bilateral relationships with a select group of high-performing lower-income countries poised to be this generation's emerging markets. The initiative aims to improve coordination, leverage private investment, and focus political commitment to accelerate and sustain broad-based economic growth. With mechanisms in place to hold us accountable for more effective, efficient development results, PFG puts President Obama's Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development into action.
Today marked the first time we have convened a meeting with the United States and all four PFG partners. The setting is especially significant: we are all gathered in Busan, South Korea for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. Throughout our meetings, we have focused extensively on ways to deliver meaningful results, ensure mutual accountability and empower country ownership.
State Department Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills led the meeting with El Salvador Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez, Ghanaian Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Fiifi Kwetey, Philippine Minister of Finance Cesar Purisima, and Tanzanian Minister of Finance Mustafa Haidi Mkulo. After addressing the High Level Forum, Secretary Clinton was also able to join us.
We partnered with these countries based on their demonstrated commitment to democratic principles and good governance, their sound policy performance, their potential for continued economic growth, and their track record of cooperation with the United States.
The PFG is an attempt to approach development differently than we have done in the past. PFG is not about more aid; rather it is about fostering a mature economic partnership to unlock a country's growth potential. Together, we analyze the binding constraints to growth, prioritize a set of clear, measurable actions, and work to overcome those barriers through five-year action plans. Along the way, we review our progress through a formal evaluation process or in more informal meetings, as we did today.
Our PFG partners are all at different stages of this process and have unique insights to share. We had frank discussions about the challenges each country faces, and how the U.S. government can improve coordination to assist these countries in strengthening long-term economic growth. We applaud El Salvador, Ghana, Philippines, and Tanzania for their commitment to taking the difficult steps required through the PFG, and look forward to continuing our close collaboration in the months ahead.
The session represented exactly why we have come to Busan this week: to take a hard look at our efforts, identify areas for strengthened coordination, and -- ultimately -- improve our ability to deliver effective development assistance.
Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Daniel W. Yohannes is the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).