Foreign Aid | From Planning to Markets and Networks

The practical work of moving foreign aid away from the planning and towards markets and networks is only in its infancy. In his fantastic Center for Global Development paper on Markets and Networks for Better Aid, Owen Barder provides a vision of what a marketplace and network for aid would begin to look like. The most interesting challenge to me is finding a replacement for price in the market metaphor. Owen seems to agree:

...there is no obvious analogue to price. Markets work by simplifying large amounts of information about preferences, costs, and effectiveness into a simple, transparent price signal. In the aid system, there are rarely explicit measures of the price of each output which would provide signals to producers and consumers.
Improving the feedback loop between donors, project managers and aid recipients is the best way to create a proxy for price in aid projects. My friend and Fletcher colleague Chrissy Martin has a great piece about how groups are experimenting with informal, SMS-based feedback tools. In Put Up a Billboard and Ask the Community: Using Mobile Tech for Program Monitoring and Evaluation, Chrissy explores the experience of RapidSMS in Malawi, Global Giving and Twaweza in Tanzania, each testing SMS-based feedback mechanisms on various scales and in very different settings. The goal, she writes, is that "mobile technology can be integrated into M&E systems so that they are more participatory, useful, and cost effective."

The time-lag question seems interesting. There is an argument for using feedback mechanism(like on the billboard) to develop priorities before aid is distributed, but also in the aftermath of aid, in a more targeted attempt to evaluate a particular intervention.

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