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After all, donor documents for decades have had indicators of results amply defined and recorded. At some agencies elaborate tables called “logical frameworks” or “causal chains” set out inputs, outputs and outcomes. Usually the inputs or outputs are clearly specified since that is where the donor money is going. But their relation to development outcomes is left murky ex ante, and rarely if ever measured and reported ex post.
The new focus on results holds some promise to turn out differently. What should be the standard for different and better? (1) there should be far more focus on measuring and reporting and verifying results (ideally by a third party) (2) there should be clarity about how the results to be measured are related to development “outcomes” (children schooled and lives saved is easy; tax revenue increased and energy electricity delivered and paid for good but harder), and (3) to be eligible as “results-based” aid should be disbursed not when “indicators” are defined on paper ex ante but only if and when outcome-like results have already been measured and verified by a performance audit -- ex post.
The big complaint about results-based aid is that it will induce donors to focus on easy quick wins instead of risky long-term institution-building. But that’s just wrong. As I have emphasized already, results-based aid may be the best single approach to institution building! Surely the best and maybe the only way to build capacity and strengthen institutions from outside is to help governments focus on delivering specific results. Results-based aid modalities aim to align incentives to do just that – that is certainly what we have in mind with Cash on Delivery Aid. The usual alternative of so-called “capacity building” via training and consultancies is supply-based technical assistance. Technical assistance has only helped where it was demand- driven – as in Botswana in the 1960s and Indonesia in the 1970s.
We’ll see if the U.S. and UK leaders’ good rhetoric get translated into on-the-ground reality by their respective donor bureaucracies.
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.
Aid agencies are investing more in energy projects than ever before, but will they succeed? Not if they ignore the key obstacle to progress: governments that choose the status quo over serious reforms.