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A few weeks ago I wrote a post criticizing the reaction of microfinance organizations and the City of New York to rigorous evaluations of their programs. This week, I’ve seen two pieces of writing in reaction to evaluation of programs that I think provide positive examples.

First, Chris Dunford and colleagues at Freedom from Hunger, a charity involved in “microfinance plus” (because microfinance services are bundled with vocational training or other forms of assistance) and which has participated in a number of rigorous evaluations, write about their reaction to the microfinance impact studies. The authors espouse a realistic view of what is possible with microfinance—a lens that allows them to view the results of the impact studies as positive rather than negative—and a realistic view of the role of various kinds of evidence and data. Their perspective is well worth reading and should be a model for other microfinance charities.

Second, Jean Case of the Case Foundation writes about dramatically changing the direction of PlayPumps, a clean water initiative which uses merry-go-rounds to pump water from bore holes. Once upon a time, everyone thought PlayPumps was a terrific idea. Children in rural villages get to have fun while the community gets clean water. In practice, the scheme didn’t work very well in many situations. The systems turned out to be quite expensive, difficult to service and required children to “play” on the merry-go-round for several hours at least. As Case writes, once evidence mounted that things weren’t going so well, the foundation and PlayPumps didn’t dig in their heels and publish more photos of smiling children on merry-go-rounds (which was a real option since the idea appeals so strongly to donors—the organization could easily have continued raising funds for years). PlayPumps essentially handed over its intellectual property to a larger organization which has been able to make PlayPumps just one of a portfolio of options for beneficiaries to choose from based on local context.

There are two examples, at least, of how to react well to rigorous evaluation.


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