On Wednesday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will officially release Bill’s annual letter.
“In the past year, I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal.”
No surprise here. But there’s measurement and then there is evaluation. They aren’t always the same thing.
Bill Gates loves evaluations and measuring outcomes.
His idea boils down to “setting clear goals, choosing an approach, measuring results, and then using those measurements to continually refine our approach.” It is more or less what he has been doing with the Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation continues to be one of the leaders in investing in evaluation-based programming. They establish an area of interest, invite people to apply with innovative ideas, put money into things of interest, require strong data and measurements and then they fund what works or can be improved.
In poor countries, we still need better ways to measure the effectiveness of the many government workers providing health services. They are the crucial link bringing tools such as vaccines and education to the people who need them most. How well trained are they? Are they showing up to work? How can measurement enable them to perform their jobs better?
…In agriculture, creating a global productivity target would help countries focus on a key but neglected area: the efficiency and output of hundreds of millions of small farmers who live in poverty. It would go a long way toward reducing poverty if we had public scorecards showing how developing-country governments, donors and others are helping those farmers.
But Gates leaves a few critical questions unanswered.
- Who should do the evaluations?
- What types of evaluations are best?
- How do you ensure that evaluations are not skewed to a pre-determined outcome?
- How do you simultaneously encourage innovation throughout the process while trying to capture measurable data?
- How do you then take these measurements and apply them to other projects?
- How will you use the data to affect public policy and opinion?
These are not trivial questions. We’ll see, when Gates’ letter is published in full, if he addresses them.
Gates mentions American education. It is one of the battlegrounds between measurement advocates and opponents. One side says that there needs to be a way to quantify and understand what is working. The other side says that such measurements cannot capture all the growth in a student and can lead to education inputs that are driven by maximizing the measured outputs.