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To achieve real improvements in health, education, and welfare in the developing world, social programs have to work. For decades, development agencies have disbursed billions of dollars for programs aimed at improving living conditions and reducing poverty; developing countries themselves have spent hundreds of billions more. Yet the shocking fact is that we have relatively little knowledge about the net impact of most of these programs. In the absence of good evidence about what works, political influences dominate, and decisions about the level and type of spending are hard to challenge. Without question, the results are suboptimal. But if evidence about what works were systematically developed and made public, that information could be used for better public policymaking and thus for more effective international aid and domestic spending.
This brief outlines the problems that inhibit learning in social development programs, describes the characteristics of a collective international solution, and shows how the international community can accelerate progress by learning what works in social policy. It draws heavily on the work of CGD's Evaluation Gap Working Group and a year-long process of consultation with policymakers, social program managers, and evaluation experts around the world.