How much do impact evaluations cost?

A boy flies a kite on Smokey Mountain, a former landfill that was home to some 30,000 impoverished people in the Philippines and the focus of a remediation and development project by the Asian Development Bank. The International Initiative for Impact Evaluation has committed $3.9 million for impact evaluations of Philippine government programs. Photo by: ADB / CC BY-NC-ND

From the Asian Development Bank to the U.S. Agency for International Development, donors across the board are beginning to embed impact evaluations into their practices.

Widely seen as a key tool for promoting aid effectiveness, impact evaluations are designed to examine whether specific programs produce a measurable development impact. For instance, an impact evaluation of the Philippines’ World Bank- and ADB-funded conditional cash transfer program demonstrated gains in reducing stunting in children and increases in school enrolment.

Yet amid the increasing use of impact evaluations in the donor community, one key question is often overlooked: How much do they actually cost?

Five hundred thousand dollars is the average cost of an impact evaluation, Vinod Thomas, director general of the ADB’s independent evaluation department, estimated in response to a question from Devex at an impact evaluation conference hosted by the bank at its Manila headquarters.

Largely due to the degree of specialization required, impact evaluations are generally much costlier than performance evaluations, which have been widely used by donors for decades but only measure output instead of impact.

Thomas and other panelists at the conference, which runs through Friday, stressed that donors are steadily ramping up funding for impact evaluations not only of their own programming but of host governments as well. That is no easy feat amid the intense pressures on aid budgets everywhere. ADB alone is providing $5.5 million for technical assistance for impact evaluations between 2013 and 2017.

The International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, announced at the conference that it was committing 170 million Philippine pesos ($3.9 million) for impact evaluations of Philippine government programs —  with support from the Australian government.

Philippine government officials welcomed the commitment and revealed that the Aquino administration had allocated 300 million Philippine pesos from its own budget for impact evaluations of its programs.

“When program X is intended for the poor, we want to have assurance that this in fact achieved,” emphasized Artemio Balisacan, director general of the Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority.

Amid pressures on donor budgets, do you think impact evaluations are worth the cost? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Piccio

    Lorenzo Piccio

    Lorenzo is a contributing analyst for Devex. Previously Devex's senior analyst for development finance in Manila, he is currently an MA candidate in international economics and international development at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Lorenzo holds a bachelor's degree in government and social studies from Wesleyan University.