It's All About MeE: Using Structured Experiential Learning ('e') to Crawl the Design Space

54 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2013

See all articles by Lant Pritchett

Lant Pritchett

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); Center for Global Development

Salimah Samji

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Jeffrey S. Hammer

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Date Written: April 8, 2013

Abstract

There is an inherent tension between implementing organizations — which have specific objectives and narrow missions and mandates — and executive organizations — which provide resources to multiple implementing organizations. Ministries of finance/planning/budgeting allocate across ministries and projects/programs within ministries, development organizations allocate across sectors (and countries), foundations or philanthropies allocate across programs/grantees. Implementing organizations typically try to do the best they can with the funds they have and attract more resources, while executive organizations have to decide what and who to fund. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) has always been an element of the accountability of implementing organizations to their funders. There has been a recent trend towards much greater rigor in evaluations to isolate causal impacts of projects and programs and more ‘evidence-based’ approaches to accountability and budget allocations. Here we extend the basic idea of rigorous impact evaluation — the use of a valid counterfactual to make judgments about causality — to emphasize that the techniques of impact evaluation can be directly useful to implementing organizations (as opposed to impact evaluation being seen by implementing organizations as only an external threat to their funding). We introduce structured experiential learning (which we add to M&E to get MeE) which allows implementing agencies to actively and rigorously search across alternative project designs using the monitoring data that provides real-time performance information with direct feedback into the decision loops of project design and implementation. Our argument is that within-project variations in design can serve as their own counterfactual and this dramatically reduces the incremental cost of evaluation and increases the direct usefulness of evaluation to implementing agencies. The right combination of M, e, and E provides the right space for innovation and organizational capability building while at the same time providing accountability and an evidence base for funding agencies.

Keywords: evaluation, monitoring, learning, experimentation, implementation, feedback loops

JEL Classification: H43, L30, O20

Suggested Citation

Pritchett, Lant and Samji, Salimah and Hammer, Jeffrey S., It's All About MeE: Using Structured Experiential Learning ('e') to Crawl the Design Space (April 8, 2013). Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 322, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2248785 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2248785

Lant Pritchett (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-4562 (Phone)
617-496-2554 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~lpritch/

Center for Global Development

2055 L St. NW
5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Salimah Samji

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jeffrey S. Hammer

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

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