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Big money is big news so it is no surprise that the recent announcement of Buffett's billions going to the Gates Foundation is making headlines. But rather than focus on the who, what, when, where, and how much, this recent Boston Globe article, Measures of Success, asks how these new philanthropic dollars will be judged once spent. The article introduces the concept of randomized control trials - one way to rigorously evaluate the impact of a social program on the people it is meant to serve. Because this type of evaluation is time-intensive and quite expensive, most aid organizations and development banks with their tight budgets and rigid guidelines don’t do them well or often enough. But as Ruth pointed out in her recent post, Gates funding is unique because it is "flexible” and “patient." Aware of this advantage, the Gates Foundation has been active in a CGD-organized Working Group on how to close the "evaluation gap" by promoting more and better rigorous impact evaluation. The Foundation could easily grow the current evidence base in development simply by financing its own impact evaluations, but it can do much more and much better if it partners with leaders in recipient countries and other aid organizations to collectively promote impact studies on a global scale. This CGD brief explains how such a collective international solution can accelerate progress by learning what works in social policy.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.