New Study from MFAN and TLC Finds Evaluation Quality on the Rise, But Barriers to Use Remain

December 5, 2017 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Tessie San Martin, and Connie Veillette.

Today MFAN and The Lugar Center release a new study, From Evidence to Learning: Recommendations to Improve U.S. Foreign Assistance Evaluation, examining the evaluation policies and practices of the largest U.S. Government agencies implementing foreign aid programs.  The study finds significant progress in the rigor, objectivity, and accessibility of foreign assistance evaluations, but also identifies remaining barriers to using lessons learned to inform program and budget decisions.

The study conducted surveys and interviews to assess the implementation of evaluation policies at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Department of State, President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The report recommends that the Administration:

  • Demand higher standards for data sampling, collection, and analysis;
  • Prioritize additional impact and ex-post evaluations;
  • Include partner governments, local populations, and NGOs in designing, implementing, and responding to evaluations;
  • Put systems in place to ensure evaluation recommendations are systematically shared; and
  • Appoint leadership that practices evidence-based decision making.

It also identifies Congress as a key partner in advancing reforms. The report calls on the House and Senate to continue oversight of the implementation of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (FATAA), enacted in 2016. It also points out that a lack of flexibility within budgets prevents agencies from being able to properly utilize evaluation findings.

“This study is timely as OMB finalizes the guidelines for FATAA implementation,” said George Ingram, MFAN Co-Chair and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The report shows that agencies and Congress understand the importance of evaluation, and that will only strengthen our assistance programs today and into the future”

“There has been strong bipartisan support for evaluation during the last two administrations,” said Connie Veillette, MFAN Co-Chair and Senior Fellow at The Lugar Center. “This study provides insights into how the Trump Administration can build on this progress, maintain robust evaluation functions across development agencies, and ensure accountability of U.S. foreign assistance investments.”

“The quality and use of evaluations matters as we partner with communities to make sure development investments last,” said Tessie San Martin, MFAN Co-Chair and President and CEO of Plan International USA.  “Without feedback loops and learning, gains will not be sustained or enhanced.”

MFAN thanks the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for its support of this report. We also look forward to working with the Administration, Congress, and the development community to expand upon the progress that has been achieved in evaluation over the past two decades of reforms.

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