I just posted this blog in response to Steve Tibbett’s piece on value for money.
Thanks very much for the post, Steve. I agree with a lot of what you say about how difficult it is to work out value for money in NGO work. A lot of what matters most is hard to measure and doesn’t happen in a simple way. Results can take years to emerge.
But I think we have to be more sympathetic to Minouche’s predicament at DFID. Like other donor officials, she has to show that limited funds are being used to very good effect. That’s something we’d surely all sign up to. Particularly as you point out that we all know examples of some projects that have been badly planned or badly carried out, and just haven’t delivered much for all the money spent on them.
We need something constructive to help demonstrate that, as a sector, we’re using funds effectively. As we discussed at the Big Push Back meeting you mention, we really need a Big Push Forward that engages with donors and senior decision makers.
For me, the starting point is being realistic about what kind of ‘value’ and results we are trying to measure. We could get a lot further by focusing on the contribution we make to other people’s efforts, rather than trying to measure changes in long term poverty.
This makes it much easier to compare different approaches, for instance to contributing to policy change or providing clean water. NEF’s Sept 2010 position paper on value for money suggests coming up with standard approaches for measuring results that are specific to different sectors. I think there’s real promise down that route. Though I’m unsure about Social Return on Investment.
Secondly, as development activists, we need to think about who judges ‘value’. Feedback systems can help make sure that intended beneficiaries and other local people have a real voice in these judgements – so they can hold us to account, along with other authorities.
Earlier this month, Bond held a meeting on Value for Money. Jo Abott, Deputy Head of DFID’s Civil Society Department, said that they wanted to work with NGOs tackling the issue. She said that their approach was more about continual improvement and building an organisational culture of using money effectively than using one standard method or coming to a single figure.
It’s very encouraging to hear. But will it be enough to convince the Public Accounts Committee? And is it good enough for us, to ensure we make best use of all the funds we are entrusted with as a sector?
Effective management systems can get us a long way, based on a commitment to maximising results and a realistic understanding of how NGOs contribute to tackling poverty. But there’s more to be done in collaborating to develop practical ways of measuring performance better.