Around the Institute

All AID All The Time

February 11, 2011  • Paul L. Sparks

In light of USAID’s new evaluation policy we’re dedicating this week’s “So-What?” entirely to highlighting important changes to USAID’s M&E standards… and our comments on the subject.

USAID administrator Rajiv Shah introduced the new evaluation policy in a speech at the Center for Global Development saying, “…our relentless focus on getting better results at far lower costs really does apply to everything we do.” Relentless, maybe, but lower costs? May it be so.

The new policy embraces both accountability and learning. It emphasizes narrowly defined “impact evaluation” – quantitative methods employing randomized control trials, rigorously defined counterfactuals and clear evidence of cause and effect.  May it be so.  But experts such as Michael Quinn Patton and the folks behind Real World Evaluation point out that RTCs may not be cost effective or useful.

Thankfully, the new standards do leave room for “performance evaluations,” which emphasize more descriptive or normative approaches. That’s nice, but here the learning emphasis is for the benefit of “future efforts.” We’ve found that the most useful evaluation designs incorporate learning and adjustment along the way. We hope that our USAID friends will learn in process where possible – rather than waiting to reap the benefits.

Click here for a summary of key points in the new policy from our pal Ruth Levine, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning, or here for a transcript of Shah’s full speech.