Thursday, 10 February 2011

Measuring Development Effectiveness: Measuring Progress?

A couple of weeks ago the OECD's Development Co-operation Directorate organised a meeting about how we measure the results of aid, for what purpose and for whom? Representatives came from donor country governments and developing countries, and various civil society organisations comprising both producers and users of data. It was (by OECD standards at least) a lively meeting and I am not the only there who was so pleased to see civil society and others invited alongside the usual suspects.

What was of most interest to me were several of the themes that came out of the meeting. Themes very strongly linked to the ideas of measuring progress.

One recurring theme was that those who provide money for aid want to measure the effectiveness of their aid programmes - both to account to tax payers, account to the citizens of countries who receive the aid, and also to learn what approaches work well and what don't. But there are some problems. What outcomes are donors trying to achieve for instance? Different donors have different ideas, but, really, should it not be the recipient countries themselves who decide what they want development to look like and to define the key goals they want to achieve? Should that not be the basis for the reporting system? Well yes, I think it should and so did many others there. This is the key idea behind countries designing their own (bottom up) sets of progress or development measures - which is a fundamental part of the Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies' platform. Several people noted that this approach would also bring benefits of strengthening national statistical systems in developing countries.

Another theme was the difficulty different donors have in trying to demonstrate how their particular spending makes a difference. Progress in the field of health, in Uganda say, might arise from a mixture of donor aid (from different countries and NGOs), work by the Ugandan government, broader societal changes and a myriad other factors. If you are looking at a broad outcome like increased longevity it is pretty much impossible to unpack who is responsible for what. And do we even need to? I don't know the answer to this question but do think having some smarter measures of progress - measures that focus on key development outcomes that are tailored to specific countries - might inspire some cleverer, more joined up, reporting systems.

And a third theme was the poor quality of statistical reporting on all this. Users felt it was often too complicated, too detailed, over qualified and just plain badly communicated. Nothing new to those who have worked with the OECD on the statistics, knowledge, policy theme that underpinned the Palermo, Istanbul and Busan World Forums. But it was nice to see it emerge (without prompting) among a different group of users of data and policy makers.

The OECD and others are still digesting the discussion at the meeting and discussing next steps. But it does seem that the momentum around measuring progress continues to increase and spread to new communities of practice.

Jon Hall

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