The power of results and evidence artefacts

Rosalind Eyben photo miniRosalind Eyben

The Big Push Forward is inviting case studies as evidence about the politics of evidence for sharing at next April’s conference. Please send us your stories. If you prefer your name not to be published, we will help you edit the story to protect your anonymity.

Development projects and programmes are increasingly being planned, appraised, implemented and evaluated in terms of ‘results’ and ‘evidence’. ‘Evidence’ is about what works to solve a problem which leads to action – intervention or treatment of the problem – that delivers ‘results’ which are reported upon and possibly also evaluated. The two discourses share in common a particular understanding of causality, efficiency and accountability that originated in and remains more prevalent in countries with an anglo-saxon empiricist tradition. However, through the dominance of English-language based global institutions such as the World Bank, they are spreading widely within the international development sector and into developing countries.

Results and evidence discourses shape our working practices through artefacts, such as logical framework analyses. These gain their power through incentives (carrots) and mandatory requirements (sticks). Different results and evidence artefacts are used in different processes at various stages in the development sector’s funding cycles. Results artefacts are used for planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting purposes e.g.

  • Payment by results
  • Results reports
  • Performance measurement indicators
  • Logical framework analysis
  • Theory of Change
  • Base-line data
  • Progress reviews

Evidence artefacts are used for choice of intervention, detailed appraisal and evaluation e.g.

  • Randomized control trials
  • Systematic reviews
  • Cost-effectiveness analysis
  • Option appraisal
  • Social return on investment
  • Business case
  • Impact evaluation

We may become so accustomed to using one or more of these artefacts that no external control is required to ensure our compliance. It is also common for an organisation to voluntarily adopt one of these artefacts in the absence of any mandatory donor requirement. Or even when their use is mandatory, a grant receiving organisation may be more exigent and controlling in how they are used than may had ever been envisaged by the artefacts’ originators.

Thus artefacts can take on a life of their own, independent of the authority that had initially required their use. Whether we find an artefact useful in our endeavours will influence how we feel about it. Our personality, experience and kind of job – including for example if we are independent consultants working for different organisations – may also influence our response. But the emotional and power effects such artefacts have on us also depends on the kind of organisation we work for, not only its position in the aid chain but also on its institutional culture and leadership. For example, two recipients of a similar grant from the same funding agency may differ widely in their attitudes and response to identical mandatory requirements.

Results and evidence artefacts are increasingly shaping our work experience in the international development sector. They frame what we are trying to achieve, shape how we spend our time and influence how we relate with our colleagues, partners, grantees and donors. What has been your experience? Please send us your case studies of the effects of any one of the artefacts listed above (or of another results or evidence artefact of which you have personal experience.

The Big Push Forward is looking for…

  • A case of how you have observed a specific artefact’s effects in practice (Note that we are not looking for a commentary on an artefact’s theoretical strengths and limitations but rather for stories of how you have observed the effects in practice.
  • Between 400-700 words would be good;
  • Firsthand experience (not hearsay) and from the development sector.

We need your email address but won’t share that with anyone else if you tell us you want to stay anonymous. If you do, the organisations and individuals described in your story must be given pseudonyms. Please contact us directly with your submissions.

Rosalind Eyben is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and her Twitter account is: @rosalindeyben

Previous blog posts by Rosalind Eyben:


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