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Caught between winning repeat business and learning: Reactivity to output indicators in international development

Emily Springer

World Development, 2021, vol. 144, issue C

Abstract: Recent sociological scholarship posits that performance metrics alter professional and organizational behavior, meaning performance indicators may recreate rather than empirically measure phenomena of interest. This perverse effect of measurement is at odds with the goals of international development monitoring and evaluation (M&E) practices, which promote learning “what works” to hone financial stewardship and route funds toward the most evidence-based, high-impact projects. Focusing on the internal, mandated, and standardized M&E system of a large bilateral agricultural development initiative, this article examines whether perverse reactions occur in this case study and how they impact the process of informal learning “what works” by professionals. Although the M&E system under study is standardized across multiple recipient countries, I utilize the experiences of multiple organizations and projects in a single East African country, and interview 58 development professionals. Using this case study, the article demonstrates that the perverse effects of measurement are initiated by the vertical managerial structure of a single project, forming the status quo of everyday development work. It then shows that the status quo is reinforced by the horizontal comparisons at each tier made possible by standardized M&E systems, including comparisons of performance between implementing organizations or donor field offices. Such comparison quiets professionals and organizations that attempt to introduce more empirical forms of learning “what works.” The article suggests that high stakes measurement practices create M&E systems that, instead of enabling learning about “what works” in projects, produce evidence to garner repeat business, what development professionals colloquially term “rebiz.”

Keywords: Learning; Monitoring & Evaluation; Organizational Pressures; Evidence-based; African Agriculture; East Africa (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2021.105506

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