Hats off to Oxfam. But are they asking the right question?

Oxfam GB has just published their first project effectiveness reviews.

Impressively, they’re available on line, telling an unvarnished story of what Oxfam achieved in 26 projects, along with the problems they’ve faced. This is great transparency. It’s also great for other NGOs to learn from their experience. So hats off to Oxfam! Continue reading

Plan’s Performance Agenda: What do you think?

Plan staff near a field in Guatemala

I work with Plan International now. In July, we held a seminar on our new Performance Agenda, which is based on the ideas set out on this website. 27 experts met in London, to talk it over and kick the tyres.

Our aim is to ensure that field staff are more accountable to (a) local communities, (b) managers and (c) donors – all through one coherent approach. It focuses mainly on managing the quality of assistance we provide (which is in our control), rather than long term impact (which is not). Continue reading

Watermelons, development projects and square boxes

Square watermelons from Japan. If only people grew in square boxes too.

Here’s a great story that shows why people are not like watermelons (see picture): they won’t grow in square boxes.

It’s a perfect example of the pitfalls of logframes. In this case, the logframe created the wrong incentives for field managers. They didn’t pay enough attention to what other people were doing. So although the team completed all their activities, they didn’t achieve their goals. Continue reading

Monitoring in the real world

Monitoring that helps NGOs achieve more

I just read a great new manual on monitoring NGO work. It’s called Integrated Monitoring, by Sonia Herrero of inProgress. It’s available for free and I highly recommend it.

It’s easy to read and written in Plain English. The text is genuinely quick and easy to follow. The ideas are excellently explained. Hurrah! This is all too rare in NGO guidance. Continue reading

Guest blog: Robert Picciotto on randomised control trials

My recent blog on randomised control trials led to enthustiastic comments about Robert Picciotto’s recent paper: Experimentalism and development evaluation: Will the bubble burst?.

I am delighted that Robert agreed to explain the main ideas in this guest blog. Robert (“Bob”) was previously Director General, Evaluation, at the World Bank and is now a Visiting Professor at King’s College, London.

Robert Picciotto

Probing the paradox of the RCT craze in international development

The growing popularity of randomised control trials (RCTs) in the international development domain is not accidental. It reflects tensions within an economics profession humbled by the failure of standard development recipes.  It is also the result of a well funded campaign aimed at raising the bar in development evaluation quality that has unfortunately backed the wrong horse.  Continue reading

Three cheers for Tony Lake in the FT

The Financial Times ran an interview with Tony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF on 19th May: How Aid Got Smarter. Three cheers for three good comments:

“Often aid does work, he says. More children are getting vaccines and clean water. Aids, malaria and measles are finally in retreat. Life expectancy is soaring. But, he adds, “Of course aid often fails.” Then the question becomes: which aid works?” Continue reading

Misusing randomised control trials

Building schools in Burkina Faso

I just reviewed two impact evaluations of education projects in West Africa. Both were required by the same major donor. Both were carried out by the same high-end US consultancy. Both used what they call the ‘gold standard’ of randomised control trials (RCTs).

Both seem to have been a shocking waste of time and money – because they used the wrong tools for the job.  Continue reading

Throwing off our results-chains

Here’s something I’ve been meaning to write about: one diagram that’s done more than anything else to stop NGOs truly measuring their performance. You’ll know it if you work in the sector. It’s the results-chain:

The example about teacher training shows why it’s so wrong. Look at it for a second and you can see it’s just not true. Continue reading

The Istanbul Principles for CSO Effectiveness

This week, the Open Forum launched its international framework for CSO Development Effectiveness. It’s an impressive achievement, very relevant to improving performance in NGOs.

Here’s what it means: Continue reading

Tools not indicators

How to measure a man?

I’m losing count of the number of times I’ve met people who aim to change how NGOs manage their work by ‘defining the right indicators’.

It’s a powerful line of thought. First, identify indicators that define what you want to achieve – like changes in average incomes or exam results. Then have all your programmes use the same menu of indicators to establish their objectives and measure their performance. Finally, compare performance between programmes to see which ones work best; do more of the good ones and less of the bad ones. Continue reading