Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) – where have your ex-post evaluations, and learning from them, gone?
A Linkedin colleague, Gillian Marcelle, Ph.D. recently asked me about ex-posts by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as more Caribbean accelerators/incubators were planned without learning from previous identical tech investments. Here is what I found, and if anyone knows more, please contact me, as it is not reassuring. Also, some were internal ‘self-evaluations’, some were desk reviews, and only a few involved going to the field to ask aid recipients about what lasted, which is typical for multilaterals (ADB and the IBRD do the same). Given Valuing Voices’ focus on participant’s voices in results, there was an attempt to focus on those, but this report did not make it clear which were which so highlights are presented below.
In 2003 IDB created an ex-post policy, “Ex Post Policy (EPP) in October 2003, which mandated two new tasks to OVE: the review and validation of Project Completion Reports and the implementation of ex post project evaluations.”. These were under the Board’s request for “a commitment to a ‘managing for results’ business model.” 2004’s ex-posts were seen as “the first year of the implementation of the EPP, all 16 evaluations can be considered part of the pilot and the findings presented in this report refer to the entire set of ex post evaluations.” Further, “the general evaluative questions proposed by EPP are first “… the extent to which the development objectives of IDB-financed projects have been attained.” and second “… the efficiency with which those objectives have been attained.”
They spent over $300,000 unsuccessfully evaluating six of the projects. In part this was due to data quality. “six had an evaluation strategy identified in the approval stage, most had abandoned the strategy during execution prior to project closure and, with one exception which produced data that could be used to calculate a treatment effect, none had produced quality evaluative information…. No [Project Completion Report] PCR provided adequate information regarding the evolution of development outcomes expected from the project or an update with respect to the evaluation identified at the time of approval. For the other six, they found that the expected results did not match what would be the sustained results. Some were better than expected while more were worse. “A critical finding across all projects is the lack of correspondence between the reflexive estimates and the treatment effect estimates. In practically all cases, the estimates were different.” How sustainably “Improved” are “Lives” as IDB’s logo touts?
In 2004 IADB chose 16 projects to evaluate and dropped four for a variety of reasons. The remaining dozen projects ex-post evaluated were on land development, improving neighborhoods, and cash programming. There were data quality and comparability issues from the onset. In the land [tenure] ‘regularization’: “Six of the projects mention ex post evaluations in loan proposals, but none have been completed to date. OVE was successful in retrofitting a subset of outcomes expected for three projects: an attrition rate of 50%.” The neighborhood improvements had positive and negative results, with ‘retrofitting’ being needed regarding data. For the four evaluated, the overall conclusion was mixed. Both, that the projcts led to “greater coverage of certain public services.” and for two cases, “this impact was more pronounced for the poorest segments included in the treated population.” Nonetheless, much more was unachieved. “Beyond this, very little else can be said. The impact on the objectives related to human capital formation and income were not demonstrated. In the case of health interventions, perhaps the intervention type most directly linked to sanitation services; there has been no demonstrated link between the interventions and outcomes, even for the poorest segments of the beneficiary population. There was also no consistent evidence showing an increase in variables related to housing values.”
Regarding cash programming, there were individual evaluations that showed promise but only after statistical analysis of a control group, something which is sorely lacking in most foreign aid evaluations. An IDB project in Panama “shows that in some cases the reflexive evaluation, in fact, understated the true program treatment effect. The development outcome of this project was the reduction in poverty. A reflexive evaluation (the gross effects) of the incidence of poverty suggested that not only was the project unsuccessful but that it actually contributed to worsening poverty; the opposite of its intent. However, a treatment effect evaluation (the net effect) that compared “similar municipalities” shows that municipalities benefiting from FIS funds had a significant decline in poverty relative to comparable municipalities that did not receive FIS financing; the project had clear positive development outcomes”.
The IDB staff consulted in 2005 about the results “questioned whether the analysis of closed projects that were not required to include the necessary outcomes and data at the time of approval was a cost-effective use of Bank resources” which may be a reason why the Bank decided against doing more, in spite of many ex-post findings contradicting expected results. Astonishingly, since then, only one summary of a Jordanian ex-post in 2007 was found, but it is questionable that it is an actual ex-post closure. At a minimum, one would expect that the Bank would ensure data quality improved, and planned strategies would actually be done.
Finally, presumably a bank cares about Return on Investment. As a former investment banker, I would be concerned about the lack of learning, given the low cost of such learning versus the discrepancies found between expected and actual sustainability. Specifically, the extremely low cost of the six evaluations that were done ($113K each, more precisely a cost of .001-.21% of the program value), which is a pittance compared to the millions in loan values. Given that more were not done – or at least publically shared- in the 18 years since, sustainability-aware donors, beware.
Unlike this multilateral, I’ve been busy with two ex-post evaluations which I hope to share in the coming months… Let me know your thoughts!
Follow our path on Ex-Post Sustainability and Resilience Seasonal Joy
Rarely do we get to teach, innovate, learn, and expand a hidden corner of one’s field. This is what is I am experiencing, and the Fund is sharing. Here is the Adaptation Fund’s ex-post project evaluation of sustainability and resilience path and progress in 2021.
I am quoting liberally and highlighting our work from the Adaptation Fund’s website where their commitment to learning from what lasts is clear. “Ex post evaluations are a key element of the AF-TERG FY21-FY23 strategy and work programme, originating from the request of the Adaptation Fund Board to develop post-implementation learning for Fund projects and programmes and provide accountability of results financed by the Fund. They intend to evaluate aspects of both sustainability of outcomes and climate resilience, and over time feed into ex-post-evaluation-informed adjustments within the Fund’s Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (MEL) processes.”
How are we defining sustainability’s path to evaluate it? Here is a flowchart from our training:
There are four phases from 0 to 3:
Phase 0 Foundational Review: Not only was this work preceded by months of background research on both evaluability of their young portfolio (e.g., under 20 of the 100 projects funded were closed at least three years, a selection criteria we had) and secondary research on evidence of ex-post sustainability evaluation in climate change/ resilience across the Adaptation Fund’s sectors.
Phase 1 Framework and Pilots Shortlist: Our Phase 1 report from mid-2021 provided an overview of the first stage of ex-post evaluations, outlining methods and identifying a list of potential projects for ex-post evaluation pilots from the Fund’s 17 completed, evaluated projects. The framework presented in the report introduced possible methods to evaluate the sustainability of project outcomes, considering the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of the Fund portfolio. It also presents an analysis tool to assess climate resilience, bearing in mind that this area is pivotal to climate change adaptation yet has rarely been measured.
The Phase one report on ex post project sustainability evaluation
Vetting and pilot selection, revised design for evaluating sustained outcomes related to resilience to climate change. Key aspects are: 1) Timing (3-5 years since closure or projects at least 4 years long within the last 5 years and seasonality matches the final evaluation) and 2) Good quality of implementation and M&E with measurable outputs and outcomes traceable to impact(s) and 3) Safety to do fieldwork re: Covid, civil peace, etc.
We (my so-clever colleagues Meg Spearman and Dennis Bours) introduced a new resilience analysis tool that includes consideration of the climate disturbances, the human and natural systems (and their nexus) affected by and affecting project outcomes. This includes five characteristics of resilience in the outcomes (presence of feedback loops, at scale, plus being diverse, dynamic, and redundant) and means/actions to support outcomes. Resilience can be identified via a clear summary of the structures (S) and functions (F) that typify Resistance, Resilience and Transformation showing where a project is and is moving towards. It is a typology of resistance-resilience-transformation (RRT) onto which the overall project can be mapped based on how actions are designed to maintain or change existing structures and functions. That was integrated into the Adaptation Fund resilience evaluation approach.
Phase 2 Methods Testing and Ex-post Field-testing: Training of national evaluators and piloting two ex-post evaluations per year includes selecting among these methods to evaluate sustainability ex-post plus the RRT and resilience measures above. In the first ex-post in Samoa’s “Enhancing Resilience of Samoa’s Coastal Communities to Climate Change” (UNDP) happening December 21, it is through qualitative evaluation of wall-infrastructure. The second, Ecuador’s “Enhancing resilience of communities to the adverse effects of climate change on food security, in Pichincha Province and the Jubones River basin “(WFP) has training completed and fieldwork should be from January 22, likely be of food security assets and methods TBD.
Phase 3 Evaluations continue, with MEL Capacity Building: Two more years of ex-post pilot evaluations (2 per year) with lesson informing integration into the MEL of the Adaptation Fund. We are already finding out lessons of rigor, of knowledge management, of unexpected benefits of returning years after closure, including indications of sustainability and resilience of the assets, with much more learning to come.
Innovations include “the relative novelty of climate change adaptation portfolios and the limited body of work on ex post evaluation for adaptation, it presents possible methods that will be piloted in field-tested ex post evaluations in fiscal year 2022 (FY22).” This includes piloting shockingly rare evaluation of oft-promised resilience. In the update to AF’s Board three months ago, it transparently outlined shortlisting of five completed projects as potential candidates for the pilots, of which two projects were selected for ex post evaluations. It outlined our process of co-creating the evaluation with national partners to prioritize their learning needs while building national capacity to assess sustainability and resilience of project outcomes in the field onward.
Also, training materials for ex post pilots are being shared to foster country and industry learning, focusing on evaluating projects at ex-post and emerging sustainability and resilience, as well as presenting and adapting methods to country and project realities.
The training material for ex-post pilots
The training had three sessions (which could not have happened without colleague Caroline’s expertise):
- Part A: Understanding ex-post & resilience evaluations. Introduce and understand ex-post evaluations of sustainability and resilience, especially in the field of climate change adaptation
- Part B: Discussing country-specific outcome priorities and co-creating learning with stakeholders. Discuss the project and its data more in-depth to understand and select what outcome(s) will be evaluated at ex-post
- Part C: Developing country-specific methods and approaches. Discuss range of methods with the national evaluator and M&E experts to best evaluate the selected outcome(s) and impact(s)
Overall progress can be seen in the document updating the AF’s board: A progress update on ex post evaluations (AFB/EFC.28/Inf.4)
So in 2018 I Wished for Sustained Outcomes to be explored and in 2019 I Wished again for more Ex-post Evaluation than Needles in Haystacks. In 2021 some of these wishes are becoming fulfilled! Seasonal Happiness for me is learning about resilience to climate change, diminished vulnerability and searching for proof of sustainability and emerging outcomes and impact(s) and I am grateful to the Adaptation Fund for its commitment to sustainability.
Accompany us on this path, cheer us on, and do your own ex-post sustainability and resilience evaluations! Happy holidays from the Czech Republic!