What we read in August: Covid’s Long Shadow, Private Sector Projects and Evaluating Anti-Trafficking Policy

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Mitigating global learning losses: lessons from the pandemic | The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab

For several years, one of the most heated debates in evaluation has been over the question of educational M&E.  Previously, policy had clearly aligned around boosting primary and secondary education availability and attendance.  Many developing countries followed through on school building and teacher training programs to great effect, scaling educational access at unprecedented speed. However, evidence quickly emerged, and has since consolidated, around the view that attainment has lagged far behind, and grievously compounded existing disparities. Solutions, such as streaming of students and penalties on teacher absenteeism, have proven divisive and unevenly applied. The colossal disruption of COVID-19 has added another dimension to this fraught debate. This blog is a very useful addition, with a wide array of studies mined for information, facilitating novel analysis of the issue across very different cultural contexts.

 

Learning from Covid-19: insights on the effective protection of refugee rights | ITAD 

Coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic naturally focussed on the tremendous challenges faced by advanced economies and their ageing populations in which mortality rates climbed to their highest levels.  However, as more evidence is collected and the path of the pandemic is traced in low-income economies, a more nuanced picture is emerging of a global crisis with an abundance of unnoticed victims. As this blog makes clear, refugees have too often slipped through the holes in state healthcare systems and epidemiological tracking. As might be expected, access challenges acutely impact refugee populations, which are often precariously situated outside regular employment and accommodation. The virtual shutdown of migration also disproportionately affected refugee communities that frequently suffer from group and family separation across borders. Long-standing issues of trafficking, educational exclusion and gender-based violence were evidently exacerbated in the pandemic. However, the blog also makes clear that there have been widespread achievements in meeting the needs of refugees: building on the coalitions of preceding crises, there was strong coordination between international, national and local actors, often driven by volunteer networks.  As a succinct guide to the achievements and failings in aiding displaced peoples in a broader crisis, this blog is worth reading.

 

Evaluating Collaborative Responses to Counter Trafficking in Persons in South Africa | Khulisa

Demand for evaluation in conflict-affected areas or areas of development closely linked to illegal activities is growing but the nature of the subject confounds traditional M&E. This article provides some substantive suggestions to help alleviate the challenges of evaluating issues of trafficking, which is among the conflict and crime-related issues attracting the most interest from policy-makers. The blog details the conclusions of a study funded by USAID that sought to uncover the scale of trafficking in persons (TIP) in South Africa. Given the subject matter, the study is most useful as a source of data and best practice.  It’s clear from the details provided that the effort and coordination required to assemble a usable assessment of TIP was extremely arduous.  With global funding and political will accumulating in support of this project and those like it, this is a quickly-developing field of M&E that should be watched closely by practitioners.

 

Measuring development outcomes of private sector investments: results, risks and outcome types | World Bank Independent Evaluation Group  

One of the perennial issues of  evaluation is making impact assessments explicable to private sector stakeholders. In practice, this involves a studied sensitivity to the investor’s own priorities, both declared and implicit, over short and long time frames. This blog deals with the opposite issue:  gauging the impact of investment in private sector projects. Preconceptions that market outcomes might be easier to evaluate, based on crude measures of customer acquisition and profitability, are misplaced: projects are invariably concerned with broader market development such as sustainability, competitiveness and integration, for which evidence is difficult to attain. The World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) has sought to build up a base of case studies and frameworks designed to tackle this issue and guide evaluators.  This is at least partly concerned with helping evaluators understand what is realistically beyond the scope of any private sector project: namely, macroeconomic conditions. This blog is a strong introduction to the IEG’s work on the issue and clearly outlines both the caveats and opportunities in any evaluation of this kind, which evaluators and their commissioners must be made aware of.

 

Food Systems and Nutrition Evidence Gap Map | 3ie  

Building on the more abstract treatment of private sector interventions above, this blog looks at a specific case: supporting women’s collective enterprises. Behind this technocratic name, collective enterprises between women actually have a storied history in many developing countries, including and especially India where this intervention took place.  Much of the blog is devoted to the long-vexed terminological debate over “empowerment”, whose widespread usage has far outstripped reliable and agreed means of measurement. That debate has often rested on whether empowerment means choice or the “right choice”, which very often involves non-traditional lifestyles and resistance from existing power structures. This study interestingly takes a streamlined approach to empowerment: focussing on entrepreneurial activity and financial activity, while retaining some of the more contested measures of social capital accumulation. While this study will not end the fractious debate about measuring empowerment, it provides useful evidence and framing nonetheless.