In 2006, when a CGD working group published its report When Will We Ever Learn? Improving Lives Through Impact Evaluation, very few social programs benefitted from studies that could determine whether they actually make a difference. Since then, there has been tremendous progress in harnessing better evidence to inform public policy decision making, especially from impact evaluations of programs in low- and middle-income countries. Impact evaluation is a rigorous approach that establishes the attributable net impact of a project or program, making it uniquely well suited to inform decision making about resource allocation, program design, and scale up or drawdown. But the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on an unfinished agenda, underscoring the need for high-quality, timely, and context-specific evidence. The pandemic has demonstrated the cost in lives and livelihoods when policymakers make decisions based on incomplete or outdated evidence and data. Approximately 15 million more deaths took place in 2020 and 2021 than would have occurred in the absence of COVID-19, and cumulative economic losses from the pandemic are expected to reach 13.8 trillion.
Given the potential real-world benefits, why have decision makers within governments, aid agencies, multilateral organizations, and NGOs not yet fully harnessed the value of evidence—including from impact evaluations—for better public policies? Looking ahead, how can the development community renew momentum and broaden bases of support for impact evaluation and the wider evidence agenda?
In response to these questions and building on progress to date, CGD launched the Working Group on New Evidence Tools for Policy Impact. The working group aimed to develop a renewed agenda for investments in impact evaluation and related evidence systems to enhance their value for policy use. It brought together a diverse group of policymakers and experts to review recent progress and examine how to address remaining obstacles to the use and utility of evidence for global development, with a focus on impact evaluation.
This brief summarizes the final report of the working group. The report collates resources and insights on progress in implementing and using impact evaluations for decision making and proposes five ways to improve impact evaluation funding and practice, directed to the development community—government policymakers; other multilateral, bilateral, and philanthropic funders; researchers, and NGOs:
- Design evaluations that start from the policy question and decision space available
- Harness technology for timely, lower-cost evidence
- Advance locally grounded evidence-to-policy partnerships.
- Enact new incentives and structures to strengthen evidence use
- Invest in evidence leaders and communities to shape the future of impact evaluation
Read the brief here.
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