Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


The Evaluation Gap Working Group was convened by the Global Health Policy Research Network as an initiative of the Center for Global Development, to address the problem of the lack of knowledge about the effectiveness of social programs in low- and middle-income countries.

Donors, developing country leaders and implementers of development programs face a dilemma: Everyone wants to ensure that donor and public monies are spent on programs that work, but measurement of impact is rare – and good quality measurement is rarer still. As a result, there is an evaluation gap. Program designers benefit little from accrued experience about what works, and developing country governments and their donor partners have little basis upon which to defend the wisdom of their investments or make adjustments if needed.

In part, this problem reflects the methodological difficulties of measuring some of the expected impacts of social programs, but experience shows that even when good methodologies exist, underlying disincentives to engage in rigorous evaluation reduce the likelihood that evaluations will be undertaken.

The central objective of the Evaluation Gap Working Group was to develop practical recommendations to solve this problem. The Working Group sought to: (a) understand the reasons for the lack of good impact evaluation, with a focus on health and education sectors; (b) the possible ways to make significant progress toward solving the problem. To do this, the Working Group:

  1. Reviewed the current status of impact evaluation in social sector programs;
  2. Explored the impediments to sustaining good impact evaluations;
  3. Consulted with a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, multilateral and bilateral agencies, major international NGOs, the research community, and private foundations; and
  4. Developed specific recommendations to address the problem that takes account of other complementary initiatives

A Final Report, prepared by William Savedoff, Ruth Levine and Nancy Birdsall and based on Working Group inputs was published in 2006, entitled "When Will We Ever Learn: Improving Lives through Impact Evaluation"

Funding for Working Group meetings, analytic work and consultations was provided under grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.