Ruth Levine calls for independent impact evaluation of aid in Senate testimony

December 22, 2009

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CGD senior fellow and director of programs Ruth Levine has urged the U.S. Congress to push for independent evaluation of development assistance. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Levine said that independent impact evaluation is crucial for ensuring that the billions of dollars spent on development actually helps poor people.

Levine testified last week at a hearing called by committee chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, on "Multilateral Banks: Promoting Effectiveness and Fighting Corruption." Lugar called the hearing, he said, to find ways to improve the effectiveness of aid.

"Those of us in Congress who care about international development and like-minded people around the world must shine a light on these programs--not to undercut their missions, but rather to ensure that these missions succeed," he said.

Levine replied in her testimony: "Distressingly, very little investment has been made in conducting rigorous impact evaluations that are necessary to tell us which interventions and approaches do and do not work in achieving the real goals of all that spending and program activity.

"Did those schools, teachers and blackboards result in more children attending and completing school than would have occurred in the absence of the project?"

Failure to answer such basic questions, she said, "leaves Congressional overseers, taxpayers and others who wish to hold the institutions accountable for results with little to go on."

"I imagine that when you evaluate the development banks' performance, you would rather hear the results of serious impact evaluations of a sample of programs than a recitation of amounts committed and disbursed, or the number of textbooks procured."

Levine urged Congress to take the lead in fostering genuine, long-term success of multilateral development banks by pushing for independent evaluation. Congress could make three clear statements, she said:

"First, that Congress values and demands the type of knowledge about program impact that comes from rigorous evaluation. Second, that Congress sees development agencies’ success first and foremost in terms of whether the program experiences are yielding true learning, with relevant new knowledge being shared with partner governments, as a key ingredient for long-term, sustained development. Third, that Congress has an interest in exploring mechanisms to foster independent high quality impact evaluation across agencies."

Learn more about CGD's Evaluation Gap initiative by reading a short Q&A with Ruth Levine: Closing the Evaluation Gap

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