How many times have you been asked to prove the "impact" of your programmes? It is of course a natural question. If we accept public funds. If we have the privilege of entering other communities and countries. If we profess to be "making a difference". Then we open ourselves up to the "show me" question. And we need answers.
But you do have to worry if the omnipresent nature of that question has pushed another vital element of the core rationale for development action into the margins? That we do things because they are the right thing to do.
It drives me just a little bit (more) bonkers when I see the justification for investing in girls' education being stronger, future, local and national economic development! If we could not make that correlation then we would not seek to ensure that girls have equal educational opportunities to boys?
On numerous occasions I am asked to provide the "impact" data for community action and engagement. Well, hello! Whose communities are they that we enter as strangers and within which we work? If we can not show the "impact" of community action and engagement strategies on anything from GDP growth to neo-natal mortality then what? Would it justify the Development community just wandering in and doing whatever "we" assess is best for "them".
I am not sure that I have ever seen any data from a randomized control trial (RCT - the methodological standard that we are of course all meant to meet) that conclusively proves that expanding the depth and breadth of public debate on sensitive public policy issues in a country either improves the policy itself and/or strengthens open and accountable governance processes. But we know this to be true. And we know it to be the right thing to do.
Likewise it is very difficult to find RCT studies that "prove" supporting a louder voice for those in the margins of societies in conversation, debate and policy development on the issues that most affect them means more resonant, relevant and effective action: Witness the vital role of people living with HIV/AIDS in the effective HIV/AIDS action. Can we scientifically prove that? Probably not. Is it the right thing to do - yep!
When considering Development action, strategies and support - from local programmes to the biggest funding decisions - we need a much better binary balance between "proven impact" and "right thing". The 0 that is "show me" needs the 1 that is "right thing".
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