I just watched a live streamed ODI / ActionAid event on Aid effectiveness and value for money. It was fascinating, tackling value for money at the level of government aid agencies like DFID. There are real similarities with the debate among NGOs.
The speakers work at the heart of the issues:
– Liz Ditchburn, Director, Value for Money at DFID
– Brenda Killen, Head of Aid Effectiveness Dept at OECD
– Gideon Rabinowitz, Coordinator of UK Aid Network
– Claire Melamed, Head of Growth and Equity Programme, ODI
All four agreed that value for money and a focus on results are extremely important. They also agreed that current methods for measuring results are not ‘fit for purpose’ as Brenda Killen put it. As a sector, we just don’t have reliable ways of measuring ‘development results’ – because it’s technically complicated, particularly for intangible areas like governance.
Liz Ditchburn said that for DFID value for money is a “determination to get the most impact for the money we have. It is a framework to ask hard questions and make issues about value and cost explicit”. She commented that one of the ways of achieving value for money is to follow the Paris Declaration principles.
Interestingly, this comes at value for money as an emergent property rather than a simple, easy-to-measure variable. It is similar to what Jo Abbot from DFID’s Civil Society Department said at a recent Bond meeting on value for money. And it allays some concerns that ‘value for money’ will be pushed in a very simplistic way, just focusing on reducing costs. We’ll see how it develops.
But I was most struck by Claire Melamed’s presentation. She outlined a fascinating approach that ODI plans to research about defining what results matter, from the point of view of the intended beneficiaries. How would it be if we (a) asked poor people what outcomes they want to achieve, (b) asked them how much they value different outcomes and (c) compared different ways of using resources to achieve the outcomes people want. The approach builds on a large body of work in development as well as Patient Reported Outcome Measures in the UK’s NHS. Claire recognised the complexities of local people’s different points of view and the importance of local politics.
It feels very similar to the approach I blogged on this week about the demand-side revolution in measuring results, taken to a whole new level. There are huge challenges, for instance in balancing standardisation with local adaptation. But the prize of common measurement systems, rooted in what poor people want most, is surely immense, even if they’re not immediately perfect. Watch this space!