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On Not Being Cavalier about Results

The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting recently slammed Andrew Mitchell’s (Secretary of State for International Development, UK) commitment to results-based aid.  Here’s what I had to say about her somewhat cavalier critique:  (See also Mitchell’s response, where my comment is posted.)

What Is the Counterfactual for COD Aid?

This is a joint post with Nancy Birdsall.

We often hear criticism of the COD Aid approach from people who question whether a high-level incentive would really alter the behavior of recipient countries. Paolo de Renzio raised this issue in a recent blog, saying that COD Aid is unlikely to work because recipient “[g]overnments have not only insufficient capacity, but also limited political interest in using available resources to maximize development impact.” The question this raises, though, is not whether COD Aid is worth trying. Rather it is questioning whether any foreign assistance can make a difference. The appropriate counterfactuals for COD Aid are existing aid modalities which rely on extensive engagement between funders and recipients on inputs, planning and implementation. The assumption of current aid modalities is that imposing the funder’s views of planning, institutional structures, training, and technical assistance from abroad can achieve progress even when a recipient country is less than enthusiastic about a program. That is the counterfactual against which to consider COD Aid.

Another Call for COD Aid Pilots

This is a joint post with William Savedoff and Ayah Mahgoub.

Shout-out to Duncan Green and Oxfam for commenting on our new book and calling, like Nicholas Kristof, for pilots of COD Aid. Best of all, Duncan noted (as have several others such as Owen Barder in this note among others) that many of the usual concerns about COD Aid (see our FAQs for some) apply as much or more to other forms of aid.

But on one big point we disagree: It’s not true that COD Aid has been tried before.

Pressure to Improve UK Aid – How COD Aid Could Help

This is a joint post with William Savedoff and Ayah Mahgoub.

Lawrence Haddad is the Director of the Institute for Development Studies at The University of Sussex in the UK. In a recent blog post, he poses several challenges for the new UK government on development.

Here’s my take on how Cash on Delivery Aid (COD Aid), an approach the UK Conservatives endorsed in their international development green paper, might address some of Lawrence’s challenges to the new government (using his numbering):

Kristof on Cash on Delivery: Bravo, But It's About Us, Not Them

This is a joint post with William Savedoff.

Of course we agree with NYTimes development columnist par excellence Nicholas Kristof that our proposal for Cash on Delivery Aid should be tried. So we are sorry to quibble, but on a couple of points cannot resist.

First Kristof wrote: “The basic truth of foreign aid is that helping people is far, far harder than it looks.” And he’s right. But a big part of the difficulty is with us, not them.

Cash on Delivery Aid…The Book!

Last week was a busy time in Washington for those interested in results-focused approaches to foreign aid, with two major events, one here at CGD and one at the World Bank.

Out of the Tranches

Proposition #1: Details matter

Proposition #2: People hear what they expect to hear

Lemma #1: People often misunderstand details

Theorem: Foreign aid agencies continue to use tranched operations even when a small modification would work better.

I leave the proof to the reader, but this theorem came to mind during recent discussions about Cash on Delivery Aid (COD Aid) as it would apply to financing primary education.