Thursday, July 29, 2010

Traditional Evaluations are Not Scalable

It’s a standard trope of this blog to point out that there’s no panacea in global development. That’s true of impact evaluation, too. It’s a tool for identifying worthwhile development efforts, but it is not the only tool.  We can’t go back to assuming that good intentions lead to good results, but there must be room for judgment and experience in with the quantifiable data.
That is Alanna Shaihk guest blogging at AidWatch.   She describes two limitations to evaluation discussed by Steve Lawry of the Hauser Center at Harvard.  Excessive reliance on evaluation, Lawry says, stifles innovation and artificially constrains aid agencies to initiatives that can be easily measured with data.

I would add a third limitation.  Formal evaluations, including the gold standard of randomized controlled trials, are not scalable.  We simply do not have the time and resources to do centralized, in-depth evaluations of everything.  The only way forward is to establish a decentralized, implicit form of evaluation in which beneficiaries and other stakeholders can provide feedback about quality and relevance of aid projects.

This is how markets work.  The magazine Consumer Reports does a great job of evaluating products.  But it evaluates a miniscule proportion of all the products produced each year in the economy.  So who evaluates the other 99.9999% of products?  The consumer.  If the consumers buy a product, it keeps getting produced.  If not, it doesn't. Does this system work perfectly?  Of course not.  Does it work better than any alternative we have found?  By far.

Enhanced by Zemanta