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Views from the Center

CGD experts offer ideas and analysis to improve international development policy. Also check out our Global Health blog and US Development Policy blog.


Memo to Jim Kim: Please Follow Results, Not Money

One of the biggest hopes people expressed about Jim Kim’s nomination to become president of the World Bank was that he would bring a fresh perspective, focused on achieving results, rather than reinforce the institution’s bureaucratic machinery. Unfortunately, President Kim’s recent remarks at the Center for Foreign Relations suggest that bureaucratic inertia is winning.

How Well Are Performance-Based Payments Working? Lessons from Guyana

What if international development finance paid for outcomes, like children educated or diseases avoided, rather than inputs like classrooms built or medicines procured?  That’s the premise of CGD’s longstanding work on Cash-on-Delivery Aid.  By paying only for the verified progress on measured outcomes, donors are assured of value for money, and recipients have the flexibility and incentive to innovate.  This idea is taking hold in educationhealth, and other sectors.

Do Trees Grow on Money? The Problem of Attribution

How can donors know if their aid is making a difference? This question is tougher than it seems. Attributing results to donor inputs seems straightforward if the donor pays for progress on a measurable outcome, as CGD has proposed for Cash on Delivery Aid (COD Aid). If the desired results are achieved—say an increase above an agreed baseline in the number of kids completing primary school and taking a competency test—then the program has demonstrated value for money, no? 

Close but No Cigar: Paying for Performance Is Not Necessarily COD Aid

When we make presentations on COD AIDat development agencies, we are frequently told: “Oh, we’re already doing that.” The more we investigate, however, the fewer cases we find where agencies are really disbursing funds against independently verified outcomes in a hands-off fashion. We’re tempted to say “close but no cigar.”

A Critical Moment for COD Aid or “The Trouble with Targets”

As mentioned in our last post, aid agencies are experimenting with programs that incorporate the main features of COD Aid: paying for outputs and outcomes, giving the recipient greater discretion to spend as they see fit, independent verification, and transparency. Once these results-based programs are up and running, they face a critical test when the first results are reported. In particular, most programs create expectations by setting annual targets and are then judged relative to those targets rather than to their baseline. And this means that even successful programs will be viewed as failures (a point also made in an earlier blog). By refusing to set targets, a results-based program can avoid this pitfall. How is it that targets can create such a problem?

A Critical Moment for COD Aid or “How to Be Patient When It Matters”

An increasing number of aid agencies are experimenting with programs that incorporate the main features of COD Aid: paying for outputs, giving the recipient greater discretion to spend as they see fit, independent verification, and transparency. (See our brief and book for more details). We’ve argued that the design of COD Aid programs can be rather easy, though the quality of the indicators chosen and the verification process are certainly critical to success. We have spent less time talking about what happens once the program is up and running. In particular, what happens when you find out how much progress actually occurred?

Complexity, Adaptation, and Results

In the last of a series of three blog posts looking at the implications of complexity theory for development, Owen Barder and Ben Ramalingam look at the implications of complexity for the trend towards results-based management in development cooperation. They argue that is a common mistake to see a contradiction between recognising complexity and focusing on results: on the contrary, complexity provides a powerful reason for pursuing the results agenda, but it has to be done in ways which reflect the context. In the 2012 Kapuscinski lecture Owen argued that economic and political systems can best be thought of as complex adaptive systems, and that development should be understood as an emergent property of those systems. As explained in detail in Ben’s forthcoming book, these interactive systems are made up of adaptive actors, whose actions are a self-organised search for fitness on a shifting landscape. Systems like this undergo change in dynamic, non-linear ways; characterised by explosive surprises and tipping points as well as periods of relative stability. If development arises from the interactions of a dynamic and unpredictable system, you might draw the conclusion that it makes no sense to try to assess or measure the results of particular development interventions. That would be the wrong conclusion to reach. While the complexity of development implies a different way of thinking about evaluation, accountability and results, it also means that the ‘results agenda’ is more important than ever.