Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

UC Berkeley and IDB partner to improve impact evaluation of projects

By Alexandra Orsola-Vidal

With over 3,743 investment projects approved during the last five years in Latin America, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is the largest and oldest multilateral lender in the region. In order to address pressing development challenges within the 26 borrowing member countries, the IDB has invested billions in project design, implementation, and evaluation.

As a result of the pressing need for evidence-based development, especially in the context of public fund expenditures, the IDB has put in place a system to design, monitor, and measure the impact of their development programs on the ground. Donors, decision makers, investors, and beneficiaries alike require rigorous evaluation to inform project investment decisions. Since approval of its Development Effectiveness Framework in 2008, the IDB has moved to institutionalize impact evaluation of its projects, implementing 274 impact evaluations between 2008 and 2014 (deo.iadb.org). Yet many of the government counterparts and implementing agencies in the region don’t have the know-how and experience required to conduct an impact evaluation.

As a means to address this issue, the IDB launched the Berkeley Inter-American Development Bank Collaborative (BIC) in 2012, in partnership with the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) at UC Berkeley. The collaborative aims to build capacity for impact evaluation within the IDB and promote its mainstreaming within the Bank.

Now operating for three years, BIC’s multi-pronged approach focuses on 3 components: 1) providing a sustainable platform for collaboration linking academic experts with operations and government professionals, 2) promoting IE among key stakeholders and, 3) building capacity in bank and government officials to conduct impact evaluations.

This model encompasses several different activities designed specifically to address the needs of IDB project leaders and counterparts. The first of these, the two-week executive education course for IDB staff and government officials, is held off-site (at the UC Berkeley Campus) to minimize distraction.

“The benefit of these weeks at Berkeley lies in having time away from the office to concentrate on this project. That makes a difference,” says IDB’s education specialist, Ryan Burgess. “Even if we did have the technical capacity to conduct IEs, we don’t have the time. The amount of detail we have the opportunity to think through for this project is not normal across the board. This evaluation is a smaller piece of a bigger project and [at BIC] we’ve had the opportunity to think through it, workshop it, and analyze it in great detail.”

Participants attend with their team members to work on evaluations of their specific projects. During the two weeks, they are introduced to IE methods via lectures and case-based learning, and time is allocated for them to develop their own project evaluations under the guidance of UC Berkeley faculty members; enabling teams to gain new skills while developing an IE action plan.

“IE is very important in our country. We don’t have the capacity on the ground,” asserts Nidia Hidalgo, IDB’s Senior Specialist for Gender and Diversity in El Salvador. “For us, the added value is clear: the ability to strengthen our team’s capacity on IE while also developing an innovative, mixed impact evaluation thanks to our UC Berkeley mentor’s support. Bringing our own individual strengths to the table while having unlimited access to each other and to our mentors, provides our project with a great opportunity to advance.”

Nidia’s government counterpart, Eli Landa, is based at the Secretariat for Social Inclusion in El Salvador and agrees with Nidia’s assessment: “having the Berkeley name behind our projects enhances their credibility, the likelihood of getting published, our ability to disseminate project results and to engage policymakers.”

Nidia Hidalgo, IDB’s Senior Specialist for Gender and Diversity in El Salvador presents the evaluation framework for a gender-based  violence prevention project in El Salvador.
Nidia Hidalgo, IDB’s Senior Specialist for Gender and Diversity in El Salvador presents the evaluation framework for a gender-based violence prevention project in El Salvador.

Upon course completion, participants continue to expand on their Berkeley experience through online learning and on-going, remote mentorship from research experts at UC Berkeley. The CEGA-developed online course (hosted on MIT’s online learning platform, edX) is more technical than the on-site workshop and complements the UC Berkeley experience by providing additional material such as statistical modeling, power calculations, data management, and research transparency, among others. As teams return to their project sites, they are able to reach out to faculty mentors to consult with them on their evaluation design, identify funding sources and re-evaluate projects as needed.

“Kristin [Rosekranz, doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley] has been great in supporting us every step of the way,” explains Michelle Perez, from the IDB’s Office of Strategic Planning and Development Effectiveness, “including in the IE discussions which did not pertain specifically to the mentorship she was meant to provide our team. For instance, at certain points we were stuck in the quantitative methodology and even though she was meant to work on the qualitative portion, she sat with us and helped us work through the challenges. This is great as it means we are not the only ones invested in the project, she is fully aware of the challenges we are facing and is better able to support our project. We know faculty is limited in the amount of time they can spend on a single project like this, but the level of involvement on behalf of the mentors truly does make a difference.”

Finally, at the end of a year, teams are invited back to UC Berkeley for a week-long follow-up workshop to update each other on IE status and consult with fellow participants and faculty experts as needed.

A total of 115 participants have attended BIC trainings, approximately half of which represent government counterparts responsible for project implementation and/or evaluation. Over the last 3 years, 36 IDB-funded projects from 13 countries have benefitted from the BIC partnership. In July 2015, 15 participants representing 6 projects in 5 different countries came together in UC Berkeley to update each other on their progress during the last year. With a diversity of projects, ranging from an impact evaluation for a social protection project in the Dominican Republic, to the evaluation of an innovative educational project in the Amazon region in Brazil, the workshop provided an opportunity for rich discussion.

Nohora Alvarado, IDB Health Specialist describes it well: “it has been very helpful to interact with other teams, especially the teams that are working in the same area. For instance, our team has learned a lot about other early child development projects that were discussed this week. It’s motivating to work as a team and know you have similar struggles even if the projects are different. I’d really like to continue being a part of this team, and I’d especially like for the Bank to continue this partnership. Generally, we work with our own team members when working on IE, whereas this initiative is a Bank-wide collaborative that enables us to work across projects and learn from each other’s experiences. BIC aligns well with the IDB bottom line and what we are trying to do with and for our government members.”

To read more about IE and BIC, visit CEGA’s website.

This blogpost was written by the Global Networks team at CEGA in collaboration with the Strategic Planning and Development Effectiveness team at the Inter-American Development Bank. It originally appeared in IDB’s Development Effectiveness Blog on Sept. 3, 2015.