Ideas

What’s Wrong With Being “Soft” in Advocacy Evaluation?

By Kerry Brennan // April 15, 2014

Measuring program effectiveness may sound like the bean-counting afterthought to the real work of program implementation. But measuring program effectiveness in the social sector can feel pretty high-stakes for organizations competing for limited funding dollars. And there’s plenty of controversy around how it should be done.

One particularly persistent debate centers around whether or not some programs are too “soft” to evaluate. Are the outcomes of, say, advocacy or empowerment initiatives too subjective, complex, or nuanced to evaluate with “hard” objective metrics?

A recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article by representatives of the Walton Family Foundation argues that this does not have to be the case, declaring “advocacy isn’t ‘soft’”. The authors describe how they have been able to apply logic models and performance measures to their advocacy projects in more or less the same way that they might … Read More »


Measuring What’s Working for Health Systems Strengthening: Lessons from Governance Reform

By Dave Algoso // March 31, 2014

The clearest representation of healthcare is a doctor sitting with a patient. Whether it’s a routine checkup or a serious procedure, direct interaction is central to how health care happens. If you want to improve health outcomes, this interaction is a good place to start: putting new technology in the doctor’s bag, ensuring vaccines or essential medicines reach patients, or simply building new clinics.

But, of course, we know that there are hundreds of other people who make that interaction possible: diagnosticians, administrators, insurers, janitors, receptionists, truck drivers, cooks, regulators, researchers…the list is endless. These are the people who compose a health care system. And the design of such a service delivery system can dramatically impact the effectiveness and efficiency of the care provided.

The global health sector is paying increasing attention to the systems that ensure care reaches … Read More »


Time to Move From Pruning Trees in Global Health to Forest Management

By Dave Algoso // March 27, 2014

Global health efforts in the past decade or so have taken an aggressive and largely successful targeted approach to some of the world’s most harmful diseases such as HIV-AIDS, TB and malaria.

With an unprecedented increase in funding for such efforts in this new millennium, the global health sector has made major gains against particular diseases and other health threats. But funding is limited, and has plateaued of late, focusing attention on getting more ‘value for money.’ Many leaders in this field say they are now seeking to identify the “best buys” in global health.

This was the stated purpose of a recent event hosted by the Center for Global Development (CGD) along with Population Services International (PSI), PATH, Devex, and Merck for Mothers which featured experts from those organizations and others. The event was linked to the release of PSI’s Impact magazine … Read More »


Navigating Certifications for Greater Accountability

By Faaria Volinski // March 19, 2014

Early this year, World Policy Journal mapped illicit diamond market activities in all their complexity. A 3-month long investigation into the efficiency of the Kimberley Process—an international agreement that seeks to identify and certify non-conflict diamonds—showed that conflict diamonds can pass through multiple subsidiaries in tax havens that are largely deemed “Kimberley Process-certified.” In this way, diamonds are erased of their true origins, making it harder to identify which are conflict and which aren’t.

At first glance, the problem seems to be the inefficacy of the Kimberley Process. Questionable jurisdictions that can erase diamonds of their true origins shouldn’t be certified. Simple as that.

But a closer look reveals a systemic issue that plagues all certifications and standards that are established with the best of intentions. As the World Policy Journal article states:

“The root cause of the problem … Read More »


Casa Materna: A Critical Service in Need of Redesign

By Samantha Hammer // March 5, 2014

Last month, we explored how policymakers can channel empathy in policymaking, using as an example our work with UNICEF to identify diverse needs and challenges of children in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). Our community-based approach highlighted success stories as well as services in need of redesign. Today, we’ll go to a casa materna, a “maternity waiting home”,  in Puerto Cabezas to see how this important resource for women can better serve as a source of medical and emotional care.

The women of the Puerto Cabezas casa materna have come from near and far. They’ve made journeys of up to multiple hours over rough roads, by foot and in designated ambulances. They’ve come to get the care they need as soon-to-be mothers.

There are 88 casas maternas spread throughout Nicaragua, and seven in RAAN. The government has invested in … Read More »


Connecting Company and Cause for Sustainable CSR

By Dane Roth // February 26, 2014

During the 2013 holiday season, Mazda launched its Mazda Drive for Good Campaign to raise funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and a collection of charities supported through the Mazda Foundation. Similar company efforts to support social causes, such as Nivea’s donation to the Breakfast Club of Canada, have long been part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.

But it’s hard not to wonder, why is a car company is putting its efforts toward addressing medical research issues?

What is “Alignment” in CSR?

Business and CSR “align” when the selection of social causes, methods of intervention, and implementation partners fit with the existing expertise and resources underlying a company’s business success.

For example, Pfizer capitalizes on its expertise in the pharmaceutical manufacturing business by donating medicine to a wide range of … Read More »


Data Visualization in Context

By Adam Parker // February 11, 2014

Our ever-growing access to information and tools has profoundly changed the way we can use, digest, display, and share data. Put an internet connection and a laptop together and you have a tool that can empower people—regardless of experience—to visualize and dictate data’s meaning and impact.

But as data use becomes more frequent, more creative, more far reaching, is the information we share and the way we share it using data accurately? Are we sharing knowledge  responsibly or perpetuating the obscurity of data?

In a recent post, “Can Data Visualizations Help Mediate Between the Worlds of Research, Policy, and Practice?” AidData addressed data visualization—a way to visually represent raw and unprocessed information in a clear, sharable, and relatable way. The abundance of data we have access to is certainly overwhelming and, as the post suggests, a “vortex”. Data visualization … Read More »


Running on Heart: Puerto Cabezas Baseball Academy

By Samantha Hammer // February 5, 2014

Last week, we explored how policymakers can channel empathy in policymaking, using as an example our work with UNICEF to identify the diverse needs and challenges of children in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). Our community-based approach highlighted success stories of people designing programs to fit their own needs. Today we’ll go to Puerto Cabezas, RAAN’s capital, to see how local programming has stepped in to provide unique opportunities for the region’s children.

School is out for the afternoon, and boys across Puerto Cabezas are drawn to the ball fields. Some biking and others even running, they are rushing to get to practice on time.

These are the boys of the Puerto Cabezas Baseball Academy.

Dr. Wilfredo Cunningham Kain first funded the Academy to encourage his young son’s love of baseball. Over the years, the Academy has evolved into an after-school and … Read More »


Empathy in Policymaking

By Samantha Hammer // January 30, 2014

In Nicaragua’s Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), there is no single experience of childhood.

For a child in seaside Prinzapolka, a highlight of daily life might be playing on the town’s sandy beaches. In rural northern Wangky Maya, the picture of home might be mother and sisters standing over a smoking wood stove in the yard. Children may spend their after-school hours helping split firewood and carry well water home; others might join friends around the neighborhood church for a pick-up soccer game or help with a small bread baking business run out of the family house.

Equally diverse are the constraints affecting these children’s lives: economic weakness in RAAN, poor physical infrastructure, lingering effects of conflict and natural disaster, and sociocultural complexity. Almost one-third of RAAN children suffer from chronic malnutrition and poverty affects 34 percent of children up to 17 … Read More »


Toward Political Intelligence in Aid

By Dave Algoso // January 24, 2014

The word “politics” is loaded. It conjures images of backroom deals, self-interested maneuvering, and elite manipulation. It carries a negative connotation in any context. Outside interference in political affairs is even worse: as unseemly as politics can be, it’s meant to stay within the family.

Nonetheless, there’s been an increasing discussion about politics in aid over the past year.

With aid-receiving countries pushing back on interference by donor nations, technocratic multilaterals frustrated by stymied reforms, and academics searching for the root causes of institutional failures, the political factors that both influence and result from aid have become more apparent.

It’s long been an open secret that bilateral agencies use aid to support friendly regimes. And the sector is admitting that aid has political impacts—both intentional and unintentional—within receiving countries. Though the historical and economic relationships between many … Read More »