In order to measure the impact of a crop insurance scheme, one needs to know how the farmer would have fared without it.
Photos: FAO/Luis Tato (left), FAO/Lou Dematteis (right)


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The debate about the impact of development co-operation is as old as development co-operation itself. The debate about the relevance of impact evaluations is a more recent phenomenon. Wouldn’t it be better to make use of the already scarce resources in projects instead of spending them on these costly evaluations? Our authors demonstrate when impact evaluations make sense – and when they don’t – and why we can’t really do without them.

Over the last 25 years, the share of the world population that lives in destitute poverty has dropped from 35 per cent to 10 per cent, and the share of people who are undernourished has fallen from 19 per cent to 11 per cent. These numbers hint at the progress we have made towards eradicating global poverty. Policy-makers, government officials and development practitioners can certainly take some credit for these improvements in people’s lives – but how much? Have projects designed, financed and implemented by various organisations contributed to this success, and to what extent?

Most importantly, despite past collective success, what can be done to do even better going forward? About 700 million people still live on less than 1.90 US dollars purchasing power parity a day, and about 800 million are still undernourished. These are unacceptably high numbers.

By bringing rigorous analysis to empirical data, impact evaluations allow to measure the effect of development interventions and to generate knowledge about how a programme works and how its design and results can be improved.

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