Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Closing the Evaluation Gap

June 5, 2006

closing the evaluation gap

Each year billions of dollars are spent on thousands of programs to improve health and education in the developing world but very few programs are rigorously evaluated to learn if they make a difference. A CGD proposal to fix this longstanding problem is gaining momentum.

The final report of the CGD Evaluation Gap Working Group released last week recommends the creation of a new, independent entity that would corral the good intentions of stakeholders to ensure an adequate supply of rigorous impact evaluations. The report, When Will We Ever Learn: Improving Lives Through Impact Evaluation suggests that the proposed new organization would, for example:

  • Identify enduring questions
  • Promote strong standards
  • Provide an independent review process
  • Target assistance for design
  • Dedicate funds for impact evaluation

Since the report was launched on May 31, an international call to action supporting the report's recommendations has been signed by dozens of prominent individuals representing a diverse cross-section of the international development community.

In a keynote speech at the report launch, CGD director of programs Ruth Levine said that the working group was born in part out of her frustration at being asked to design, implement and advise on complex development programs in the health and education sectors, "with little more to go on than some theory, my own on-the-job experience, scattered and scant case reports in the literature, and the occasional advice from colleagues."

"In 1990, when I first started in development work, I was unable to find any systematic body of knowledge from the decades of experience implementing similar programs," said Levine, who served as co-chair of the working group. "The situation is not much better today. Billions of dollars are spent each year on well-intentioned social programs that are based on very weak evidence about what works."

The working group's recommendations were developed by studying what institutions are already doing, analyzing the behavior of bureaucracies in rich and developing countries, and consulting widely through a web-based survey and face-to-face consultations, including discussions in the San Francisco Bay Area, London, Mexico, Delhi and Cape Town.

"We also got a constant stream of e-mails from a lot of very annoyed people," Levine said. "Some are annoyed with us; most have been annoyed with the existence of a real blind spot in the development business." (Members of the working group, and an extensive list of the experts consulted are included in the final report.)

Following Levine's talk, working group co-chair William Savedoff, a senior partner at Social Insight, an independent consulting firm, presented the working group's key recommendations. Video of Levine and Savedoff’s remarks, slides from Savedoff’s presentation, and a transcript of the event, including a panel discussion with senior U.S. development officials are now available on the relevant CGD event page.

For further information, including a useful FAQ, see the CGD Evaluation Gap Initiative. To sign the Call to Action contact Joselyn DiPetta.