How do we make sure our foreign aid is effective? This is not a theoretical question, but an existential one for USAID. For more than 50 years, the United States Agency for International Development, along with other donors, has been wrestling with the question of how to understand the effects of our programming.
There are a number of ways to understand whether foreign aid is or isn’t working. We need to be concerned with relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability, all of which happen to be the OECD/DAC Evaluation Criteria, which are currently under consideration for adaptation.
And as many development workers know, the kinds of questions you ask during evaluation are also particularly useful to consider when designing aid programs: Is what we’re doing suited to the priorities and policies of the target group, recipient and donor? Is what we’re doing achieving its objectives? How efficient, or cost-effective, is what we’re doing compared to alternatives? What are the changes produced, whether direct or indirect, intended or unintended? How likely is it that the results being produced can be obtained without our support?
These criteria underscore the difficult trade-offs that are inherent in decisions about aid. And often the answers to these questions do not all point in the same direction.