by: Kerry Bruce and Jennifer Nevin Anderson

Social Impact is pleased to join organizations like AEA and MFAN and expert evaluators, in welcoming the new OMB monitoring and evaluation guidelines for foreign aid agencies. The guidelines fulfill the requirement of the bipartisan Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2016 and focus attention on the need for accountability for scarce foreign assistance dollars.

Over the years, we have worked alongside USAID, the Department of State, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation to develop their evaluation policies, improve their practices, and expand their capacity. Our shared goal is to improve the effectiveness of foreign assistance. These guidelines will enhance and further all federal agencies’ monitoring and evaluation (M&E) work.

Three things we noted in the guidelines:

1. We appreciate the policies establishing and documenting baseline data collection. Too often evaluation is an afterthought and when we start an evaluation, we discover there was no baseline data.

2. The principal that evaluations should be “sufficiently resourced” is important. The desire to use foreign assistance funding to support people, governments and economies sometimes means that M&E budgets are the first to go. Resourcing should include money for staff, data collection, evaluation and learning activities. Last year the budget had a chapter devoted to evidenced-base policy, but the final budget reduced staffing and resources for M&E at USAID and State Department.

3. There is a requirement to conduct impact evaluations of all pilot programs, or a performance evaluation with a justification for not doing an impact evaluation. The sentiment here is right. We should understand the impact of a pilot project before expanding or replicating it. How we understand the program, the method we use is not as important as making sure that an evaluation is done.

Two things we noticed missing from the guidelines:

1. We noticed the unfortunate absence of any mention of ex-post evaluations. In fields such as democracy and governance and post-conflict transition, it can take many years for the final outcomes of project to be realized. Often these outcomes are only fully realized long after a project is over, the implementer has left, and the funds have been spent. To understand the impact and sustainability of projects and approaches, ex post evaluations can play a critical role in helping us to understand what remains when the aid dollars are gone. These are perhaps even more critical now that the new administration is directing USAID and State to find ways for us to “end” foreign assistance as aid.

2. We did not see any reference to an important and growing field that enhances evaluation – Collaboration, Learning, and Adapting (CLA). While the guidelines mention evaluation use, thoughtful application of CLA can help ensure that what is learned through program implementation, monitoring and evaluations is used and shared to make programs more effective.

We commend the administration for releasing these important guidelines and call on both the administration and Congress to provide the funding to ensure that they can be fully implemented.