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Aid donors’ drive for ‘results’ must not undermine the hard work in fighting poverty

By Oxfam

WASHINGTON, DC -- Moves by some donors to insist that their aid must demonstrate short-term ‘results’ could, in some cases, lead to weaker progress in fighting poverty, says international agency Oxfam America. 
 
The case for “results-driven aid” is likely to be an important debate at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) in Busan, South Korea beginning on November 29. Oxfam warns from experience that donors’ ideas of results may not always be those that matter most for poor people.
 
In a new report today, The ‘Right’ Results: Making sure results agenda remains committed to poverty reduction, Oxfam welcomes donors’ efforts to make their aid more effective. However it says donors need to beware that focusing too heavily on “results” does not create unintended problems and gaps.

“Donors are always under tremendous pressure to show results but this can lead to skewed policies, undoing years of more useful work in fighting poverty.” said Gregory Adams, director of Aid Effectiveness for Oxfam America. “Donors must ensure that the needs of poor people are included in the types of results that will have the most lasting and effective impact – even if these are more difficult to quantify.”
 
The report says that some donors have even begun to withhold their aid until recipients demonstrate ‘results’. “This forces poor countries to bear a greater share of the initial risk of any development project,” Adams said.

"If donors become fixated on ‘results’ they risk, for instance, opting to spend aid money on the numbers of pencils in a classroom rather than on long-term programs to increase the quality of education,” said Adams.

“There can be a tendency of focus on the easy results, such as the numbers of kids in school or the number of medicines distributed, rather than the right results, such as improving the overall quality of education or health care or labor conditions or gender empowerment. These things often matter more to poor communities but are harder to express in terms of ‘results’,” Adams said.
 
Some donors are already using an unhelpfully narrow interpretation of results. For example, the UK’s Department for International Development has reduced its share of budget support to effective programs in Zambia in part because it is worried that evaluating the ‘value for money’ is too difficult.  

“It is important that poor people are able to influence how aid is invested to delivering good results,” said Adams. “Donors must understand that a poorly managed ‘results’ agenda – one that fails to include recipients in deciding what results matter – has the potential to undermine the commitments that donors have made about ownership and inclusive partnerships.”
 
In advance of HLF4, Oxfam recommends that:

- Donors should measure outcomes and impact;
- Donors should maintain or increase aid where it’s needed, even if results are harder to measure;
- Poor people should help to determine the results;
- Donors should appreciate the political context in which aid is given and work to ensure that it does not
   undermine the compact between poor people and their governments.

“When donors include recipients in defining and measuring results, citizens are better able to engage with their governments, holding them accountable, and donors are better able to achieve and show those results that matter most to poor people,” said Adams.

Notes to editors:

The full report can be found here: http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/the-right-results-making-sure-the-results-agenda-remains-committed-to-poverty-r-143490

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