But when it comes to things like the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), in many ways, he seems to be his team's Least Valuable Player (LVP). He is, in short, a lightning rod. I think Madeleine Bunting called him a marmite person--you love him or hate him (although I am nowhere near these extremes).
The 2 main critiques of the MVP seem to be (a) of course if you spend $60 per head per person for 5 years you will see dramatic development improvements--but what happens when the donor money runs out? and (b) actually we don't know if the impacts are there because the MVP has no baseline comparison group of villages (and there is absolutely no technical reason the MVP experiment could not have been randomised at the village level a la Progresa).
The second critique seems sound to me. It is hard to understand why baselines of case control villages were not undertaken. The second critique gets us impact folk excited, but I suspect it is the first critique that is more widely supported--who on earth will pay for this once the donors leave?
But it seems to me that this ownership and sustainability issue can be evaluated in the impact analysis, at least in a plausibility kind of way (i.e. we won't really know if it sustainable until the external money is taken away).
For example, one could measure whether the MPV funds:
(a) crowd in or crowd out private or state contributions to infrastructure development
(b) lead to more business activity
(c) create a more diversified tax base
(d) lead to more domestically financed NGOs
(e) helps secure rights (property, user of civil), and
(f) build a stronger capacity to fight for state resources.
One could also do some knowledge, attitude and perceptions work with policymakers, community leaders and NGOs that is clever enough to get around self-interest and get answers to questions about about sustainability and ownership.
These kinds of questions are vital, it seems to me, for the next phase of the MVP evaluation equation--an equation that Jeff Sachs would do well to take himself out of for a while...