As the world moves into an era of spending restraint, IFAD will need to tell a convincing story of its impact on rural poverty reduction. A strong body of evidence on IFADs ‘real effect on peoples lives’ will need to be developed. At the same time, the movement for the use of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in development economics to accumulate credible knowledge of what works and what doesn’t has gained momentum.
Following are a few of the presentation’s main themes.
- Causal links. Over the past decade – and especially amidst global recession and fiscal constraints – governments and other donors have increasingly demanded proof of the impact made by development policies and programmes. To meet these demands, aid organizations must clearly identify the causal pathways between interventions and results, and systematically gauge the impact of their work.
- Before and after. Objective impact evaluation hinges on a difficult task: determining what would have happened if the project in question never existed. This requires a comparison of indicators for two separate groups – beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries – both before and after the intervention.
- Control groups. Controlled trials are one approach to making such comparisons. The trials compare randomly selected members of a beneficiary group with their counterparts in a non-beneficiary control group. There are other methods of comparison, as well. No approach is perfect, but each can be helpful in addressing the issue of attribution; that is, finding out whether changes in the status of beneficiaries can be attributed to a particular intervention..
- Outcomes vs. impacts. When choosing indicators to be used for evaluation, it’s important to recognize the distinction between the outcomes and the impacts of a development project. A rural electrification initiative, for example, might result in improved indoor air quality, as households use fewer polluting fuels for cooking, lighting and heating. In this case, better air quality is the outcome. From a human development standpoint, however, the relevant impact could be a reduction in respiratory diseases and deaths among children under five.
- Design for success. To ensure an accurate assessment and to reduce costs, the impact evaluation should be designed at the inception of a project, not imposed after the project is already operational. Optimally, interventions can be evaluated at the pilot stage and then brought to scale on the basis of a rigorous analysis of lessons learned early on.