The term “results oriented” has become a new buzzword in international development. Its near-universal usage among funders and practitioners suggests our industry has failed to give sufficient attention to measuring meaningful outcomes along with associated costs.
The drive to do more with less has given rise to the measurement imperative — the use of rigorous quantitative methods to establish fundamental relationships between a few variables with the aim of identifying simple causal pathways to pre-established indicators of success. As a corollary, we find an increasing emphasis on accountability to better control the production of intended results as cost-effectively as possible.
Who can argue with the need for doing more with less? As serious practitioners of social and economic change, we accept this moral imperative of being held accountable — to our fellow citizens, to our funders, to our clients and to ourselves. Yet, there is something missing. It is as if we have reduced our understanding of reality and all of its complexity to fit the limitations of our methods. This view feels incomplete and needs some major re-envisioning.
Anyone who has ever implemented a project will agree that many results are neither intended nor direct. The causal pathways that underlie our work are usually far from simple. Reality often diverges significantly from the results framework to which we are held accountable. Effects are often subtle, indirect, mediated or delayed. It is difficult to know what will actually happen in a system unless the parameters are highly constrained and the all-important context is artificially removed. How do we reconcile the need for achieving results and accountability within a more complex, interrelated yet unpredictable understanding of reality?