I read the speech Andrew Mitchell made last night on "Results for Change" at the Royal College of Pathologists in London (sorry, I can't find a link for it).
It was in part taking stock of the past year at DFID and in part taking on the critique of the results agenda that "it will encourage us to indulge in a host of evils: to focus narrowly on the easy wins, to adopt 'one-size-fits-all' methodology, to take simplistic views of complex societies, and to mortgage long-term change for short-term gain".
The Secretary of State cycled through examples of how the results agenda would play out in the areas of health, education for girls, wealth creation and governance.
On health, the speech focused on the direct impacts of vaccinations throughout the lifecycle, but also on the indirect effects. From the nutrition literature we know positive effect that "immunisation days" can have on the wider demand for health services, health systems strengthening and the consequent impact on child nutrition status.
On education for girls, we heard about DFID's work with the Nike Foundation and communities in northern Ethiopia. Again we know that extra years in school, if the quality of education is good and the environment is safe, is a good thing for future wellbeing through direct (participation and employment options) and indirect routes (e.g. later age of marriage and first birth).
On wealth creation it was EasyPaisa in Pakistan, a mobile phone based set of financial services. We know that financial services for the poorest can improve their assets and their access to know how.
On governance it was working with the Government to set up inexpensive channels for people to access legal rights in Bangladesh, which can help the poorest get redress to asset grabs, and to seek justice for those suffering violence.
* A well-written speech. Intended to inform and reassure. A good balance of substance and oratory.
* Good examples were provided. The governance one seemed strong (the speech was not afraid to talk about rights or power). The health one did a good job of reminding us that magic bullets can have positive spillovers. The wealth creation builds on innovations from Kenya and elsewhere but felt the weakest in terms of demonstrated impacts. The education one seemed to represent the biggest jump--from 376 girls in a pilot to 2 million girls over the next 4 years.
* In eachcase the outcomes identified seemed credible and sensible. On immunisations it is usually good enough to measure participation, but there was also a focus on getting rural doctors into post, thus strengthening health systems. On education there was a focus on helping girls stay in school, but also on reduced rates of early marriage. On wealth creation in addition to participation there is an outcome measure (I think) around remitting income. On governance there is an outcome around reduced violence and abuse suffered by women within the home.
* The challenge of course will be to (a) actually measure the outcomes, (b) assess the impact, and (c) learn from the results and (d) adapt the intervention. In my commentary I use the word "can" a lot--these interventions can be positive, but they can just as easily have zero or even negative consequences (we will soon be able to begin compiling this breakdown as all the new systematic reviews come in). So (c) and (d) are just as important as (a) and (b).
* In addition, HOW (a)-(d) are done will matter in terms of whose results count. The incentives to do (a)-(d) are weak enough and to do them in a way that is accountable to beneficiaries as well as to funders is even harder.
* Finally, I was struck that the interventions and the outcomes highlighted did not seem that different from pre-Coalition DFID. I think the true test of the current DFID will be (1) can it get results done in ways that promote learning and adaptation as well as accountability (for partners and DFID itself)? (2) is it open to different types of evidence, as long as of a sufficient quality? (3) of course, can it achieve better outcomes for a given set of resources? and (4) can it communicate that, credibly, to different audiences?
Results for "good change" is a difficult business, but I think the signs in this speech are encouraging. Most importantly it shows that DFID is listening to its stakeholders.