It’s quite the buzz phrase: results-based development. But what is actually meant by "results"? Here at CGD, we think of achieved, verified development outcomes, not outputs, i.e. children actually learning more in school as opposed to just more schools built, or fewer deaths from malaria as opposed to increased roll-out of bed nets, or real-time satellite data showing more areas of tropical forest still standing.

In a new CGD Podcast I asked the same question of my guests, Dr. Raj Shah, former Administrator of USAID under President Obama, and Michael Gerson, former presidential speechwriter and Assistant for Policy and Strategic Planning under George W. Bush, and now a well-known columnist for the Washington Post. The two have reached across a generational and political divide to collaborate on "Foreign Assistance and the Revolution of Rigor," a chapter in the book Moneyball for Government, which underlines the importance of data-driven decision-making in development.

“Results are about, in my view, using American assistance to create human opportunity and to end extreme poverty around the world,” says Shah. “You just have to know what you’re trying to achieve, measure it with rigor and sophistication and make adaptations to ensure you’re delivering those results.”

Listen to the podcast to hear the response from Michael Gerson, who, during his years in the White House, helped create PEPFAR, President Bush’s celebrated scaling-up of efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS. How does Gerson know that initiative has achieved results?

“One of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in Africa were empty hospital beds,” he says of a visit to a rural clinic in Rwanda in recent years. Gerson recalls asking the head of the hospital how many patients were being treated for opportunistic infections related to AIDS. “We don’t have any,” Gerson recalls the man telling him.

Hear that part of the conversation in the clip below, and more from both my guests in this edition of the CGD Podcast.