A common criticism of an increased result orientation in development aid is that it embraces values that may be difficult to measure. In an open letter to the Minister for Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson, who has been a strong advocate of measurement reforms, several SIDA officials recently raised such concerns.
However, there are no reasons why aid should not be measurable, or at least be designed to allow for measuring. At a seminar, hosted by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), Professor Abhijit Benerjee, development economist at the MIT Department of Economics, discussed how scientific methods such as statistics and control groups, could be used to raise aid quality and cost efficiency.
Exemplifying, Banerjee mentioned education. Having historically been closely linked to growth, education has recently lost this feature in parts of the world. One of the reasons, Banerjee claims, is the too rapid construction of educational systems. While teachers are scarce, societies with a newly developed educational system often lack parental awareness of the benefits of education. Thus, there are huge skiving problems, many children lack basic skills and early drop outs are common.
When guessing what methods are most suitable to solve the problems, most would go for intuitively reasonable solutions such as increased salaries for teachers or free school lunches. However, scientific studies point in another direction, finding that smaller reforms such as de-worming or parental education on the benefits of education are the most cost efficient means. Economic hypotheses also sometimes point in the wrong direction. For instance, small rewards have a much more substantial effect on learning motivation than has been predicted by economic theory.
According to Banerjee, Swedish voters should, to a larger extent, demand a more thorough examination of aid. In addition, the aid sector should learn to design projects in order to facilitate studies. This can for instance be done through the use of control groups and more specific result indicators. If we are serious about relieving poverty, that’s the way to go, Banerjee said.
Text: Evelina Lorentzon, Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation