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Evaluating the Impact of Development Projects on Poverty

Evaluating the Impact of Development Projects on Poverty: A Handbook for Practitioners

By Judy L. Baker (2000).  Washington D.C.: LCSPR/PRMPO, The World Bank


Despite the billions of dollars spent on development assistance each year, there is still very little known about the actual impact of projects on the poor. There is broad evidence on the benefits of economic growth, investments in human capital, and the provision of safety nets for the poor. But for a specific program or project in a given country, is the intervention producing the intended benefits and what was the overall impact on the population? Could the program or project be better designed to achieve the intended outcomes? Are resources being spent efficiently? These are the types of questions that can only be answered through an impact evaluation, an approach which measures the outcomes of a program intervention in isolation of other possible factors.

 Many Governments, institutions, and project managers are reluctant to carry out impact evaluations because they are deemed to be expensive, time consuming, technically complex, and because the findings can be politically sensitive, particularly if they are negative. Many evaluations have also been criticized because the results come too late, do not answer the right questions, or were not carried out with sufficient analytical rigor. A further constraint is often the limited availability and quality of data. 

Yet with proper and early planning, the support of policy makers, and a relatively small investment compared to overall project cost, a rigorous evaluation can be very powerful in assessing the appropriateness and effectiveness of programs. Evaluating impact is particularly critical in developing countries where resources are scarce and every dollar spent should aim to maximize its’ impact on poverty reduction. If programs are poorly designed, do not reach their intended beneficiaries, or are wasteful, with the right information they can be redesigned, improved, or eliminated if deemed necessary. The knowledge gained from impact evaluation studies will also provide critical input to the appropriate design of future programs and projects.

This handbook seeks to provide project managers and policy analysts with the tools needed for evaluating project impact. It is aimed at readers with a general knowledge of statistics. For some of the more in-depth statistical methods discussed, the reader is referred to the technical literature on the topic. Chapter 1 presents an overview of concepts and methods, Chapter 2 discusses key steps and related issues to consider in implementation, Chapter 3 illustrates various analytical techniques through a case study, and Chapter 4 includes a discussion of lessons learned from a rich set of ‘good practice’ evaluations of poverty projects which have been reviewed for this handbook. The case studies, included in Annex I, were selected from a range of evaluations carried out by the World Bank, other donor agencies, research institutions, and private consulting firms.  They were chosen for their methodological rigor, attempting to cover a broad mix of country settings, types of projects, and evaluation methodologies. Also included in the Annexes are samples of the main components that would be necessary in planning any impact evaluation – sample terms of reference, a budget, impact indicators, a log frame, and a matrix of analysis.

Send your comments to the author: jbaker2@worldbank.org

Download “Evaluating the Impact of Development Projects on Poverty: A Handbook for Practitioners”Baker, J. L., 2000. (689Kb PDF file)

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