The Principled Agent

Thoughts on development economics and impact measurement

Judging Aid Agencies by Streetlight

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The DRI team at Aid Watch just released its second installment of The Best and Worst of Official Aid, wherein Claudia Williamson and Bill Easterly assess myriad agencies according to “aid transparency, minimal overhead costs, aid specialization, delivery to more effective channels, and selectivity of recipient countries based on poverty and good government.”

The authors candidly admit that their analysis only assesses performance on these “best practices”, rather than aid effectiveness. When reading the report, I was struck by the degree to which academia and the general public have been made to be like a drunk looking for his keys:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks whey he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is.”

While we know it’s outcomes that matter, not overhead, for example, we look to overhead, just as the drunk looks to the curb by the streetlight. It may be better than nothing, or it may actually be detrimental (as many, including myself, would argue the fixation on overhead is), but it’s all we’ve got!


Written by Chris Prottas

May 11, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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