03 April 2012

NGOs, RCTs, and Institutions

There is a malicious and perverse relationship between the force of NGOs and the weakness of the Haitian state.
That is Ricardo Seitenfus, the Brazilian head of the Organization of American States mission to Haiti during the 2010 earthquake - quoted by Acemoglu and Robinson.

This is the real challenge to aid project impact evaluations, whether randomised or not, and is really the key argument made by the critics from Bauer to Easterly to Moyo. 

What isn't clear to me is how we should expect the impact of NGO activity on state strength to vary by the effectiveness of the project. Does the measured impact of the project on individuals have any relationship with the impact of the project on broader governance? It's at least plausible that a very effective health intervention (measured by outcomes for individuals) could also be effective in building state capacity for service delivery. Or on the contrary, the same measured improvement in outcomes for individuals could be consistent with undermining state capacity, by encouraging the state to spend less on health and more on other goodies, and also by poaching the best staff from the government into the NGO sector. Tricky.

Answers / more data sources on a postcard. 


heather lanthorn said...

Could one partial proposal be to have an NGO code of conduct for different areas of development (e.g. http://ngocodeofconduct.org/ for health systems), which guides the way in which projects are designed, implemented, and evaluated; something about compliance with this could encouraged to be included in the evaluation report. This should give us some sense as to whether the outcomes seen at the individual level likely came at the expense of state capacity, had no effect on capacity, or actually augmented capacity.

Beyond this, is the part of the issue to say that we need to start making it the norm to think a little more broadly about - and measure and report more broadly on - the range of stakeholders that may be influenced by a project, including the relevant public sector? I would go so far as to say that the evaluation itself - through the training of local staff - should aim to build local research & statistical capacity.

rovingbandit said...

I think a lot of NGOs do think seriously about this and do act accordingly - sustainability and exit are high on priority lists - we just don't have much rigorous evidence either way on the impact on state capacity.

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