Dr. Krishna Kumar Discusses the Past, Present, and Future of US Foreign Aid Evaluation

//On February 21, 2013, CGCS in conjunction with Penn’s Provost’s Interdisciplinary Seminar Fund, the Graduate School of Education, the School of Medicine, and Wharton welcomed Dr. Krishna Kumar for a noontime seminar and workshop launching a seminar series examining Monitoring and Evaluation in International Development.

During his seminar and workshop, Dr. Krishna Kumar shared his experiences as an evaluation adviser for both the Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance Resources at the State Department and the Center for Development Information and Evaluation for the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID). He examined the development and current state of evaluation and the role of indicators in measuring the success of US foreign assistance programs.

Dr. Kumar was able to cover a wide area of topics. He discussed the history of evaluation in US foreign assistance from the development of early evaluation in the 1960s, which led to USAID opening its first evaluation office in 1968, to the use of evaluation and indicators to measure the effectiveness of US foreign aid and the programs funded by that aid today. Dr. Kumar also examined the relationship between politics and foreign aid, and admitted that it is difficult to eliminate politics from foreign assistance and the majority of aid given abroad has a political agenda.

Evaluation of foreign assistance programs have improved since they were formally developed in the 1960s, however, Dr. Kumar admits there are still issues that have to be addressed in evaluating foreign assistance programs. He feels there is too much of a disconnect between academics and the US agencies managing foreign assistance programs in operating and evaluating the programs, particularly as it relates to the method the programs are evaluated. Dr. Kumar recognized there are also issues in managing multiple objectives in a single program or project, especially when there are several donors with different expectations of how their money will be utilized. He admitted that US objectives do not always match up with the wants or needs of the communities where they provide assistance. Lastly, he discussed the difficulty in evaluating assistance programs that have very little quantifiable data, such as programs that promote democracy or human rights.

Dr. Kumar feels the indicators used in evaluating foreign assistance programs need to be more flexible and realistic, however, the need to provide donors with easy to understand quantitative data may limit US foreign assistance agencies to operating programs whose success can be communicated through numerical data with qualitative data only being use to supplement or support the quantitative data. In the end, he feels there is too much emphasis in justifying outcomes to Congress or the donors and there needs to be more focus placed on cumulative evaluation of foreign assistance programs.

//Jared Browsh is a Social Media Policy Fellow at CGCS

Attribution Some rights reserved by the USDA

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