M&E Thursday Talk – How much is a dollar worth? Understanding value in peacebuilding and violence prevention

This is a recording of the M&E Thursday Talk on October 10th, 2017 hosted by Milt Lauenstein who led a discussion on “How much is a dollar worth? Understanding value in peacebuilding and violence prevention.”

M&E Thursday Talk – How much is a dollar worth? Understanding value in peacebuilding and violence prevention from DME for Peace on Vimeo.

In this webinar, donor Milt Lauenstein discussed his focus on understanding the cost-effectiveness of different peacebuilding approaches. He talked about the origins of this interest, how cost-effectiveness fits into a larger monitoring and evaluation conversation, and cost-effectiveness research to date. Milt is a member of Alliance for Peacebuilding, Peace and Security Funders Group and the sole funder of the Purdue Peace Project.

Learn more about Milt’s work with this informational video below:

PeaceBuilding from DME for Peace on Vimeo.

1 comment on “M&E Thursday Talk – How much is a dollar worth? Understanding value in peacebuilding and violence prevention”

I really enjoyed the presentation and the Q&A session afterwards. I hope the conversation can be ongoing. In that spirit I have shared below a resource from the book “The Politics of Evidence and Results in International Development: Playing the game to change the rules?.” by Rosalind Eyben, Irene Guijt, Chris Roche and Cathy Shutt. It is about International Development, but applies to our conversations about International Peacebuilding.

I find the table copied below relevant for two reasons: first, it expands the method of analysis beyond just cost-effectiveness, or more appropriately explains what cost-effectiveness is in relation to other value for money assessments, and second, it offers some preliminary thoughts on weaknesses of the different approaches that constitute the VfM agenda. No one disputes the need to seek evidence and understand results, but there are inherent power relations at play when these evaluations are undertaken. While I agree with the vision of demonstrating value of ‘peace’ spending over ‘defense’ spending, if we fail to attend to the power relations of the process and assume it is only technical, or non-normative, these efforts can risk contributing to the maintenance of inequitable power relations that prevent more just and inclusive societies.

Table 4.2 Value for Money approaches from a transformational development (or conflict transformation) perspective

Elements of VfM assessment approaches: Description and possible weakness from a transformational development perspective

Economy analysis: Comparison of costs of key inputs, which can encourage the idea that cheaper is better. A superior approach is a procurement policy that allows agencies to justify decisions about price levels in line with their value propositions. Used in planning, implementation and evaluation.

Cost-efficiency analysis: Explores relationships between cost of inputs and outputs. Can be used during planning, implementation, or evaluation. Sometimes targeted using trend analysis of VfM indicators to improve over time. Also used to assess the relative efficiency of simple programme outputs, e.g. cost per person vaccinated or trained, but can be difficult to apply in complex programmes where linear relationships between inputs and outputs do not apply.

Cost–benefit analysis: Explores relationships between costs and the economic value of outcomes or impacts. Can be used during planning, implementation, or evaluation. Bases VfM judgements on comparison between similar programmes or with a subjectively chosen standard. Weaknesses include inappropriateness for non-linear programmes; using non-transparent or unrealistic assumptions and optimism bias to justify funding decisions; ignoring non-quantifiable or non-monetizable outcomes that are significant in transformational programmes.

Cost-effectiveness analysis: Explores relationships between costs and quantifiable outcomes or impacts. Can be used during planning, implementation, or evaluation. Characterized by weaknesses similar to cost–benefit analysis, although it avoids monetization challenges.

Social return on investment (SROI) analysis: Involves different stakeholders and partners in identifying costs and benefits that are then valued by assigning monetizable proxies. Includes social and environmental outcomes and values of different stakeholders in a cost–benefit analysis framework. Has been used by NGOs during planning and implementation, but can be used for evaluation. Challenges include the monetization process, ethical considerations, and the impossibility of comparison. Can be extractive if not used with empowerment objectives.

Basic efficiency resource (BER) analysis: Uses basic VfM concepts and qualitative approaches to assess the relative contribution of different units or projects/organizations to complex multi-component programmes or activities given different levels of resources. BER analysis then offers a comparative perspective on performance, judged vis-á-vis other units within the organization or joint activity. Used for evaluation. A useful approach for encouraging participatory discussion and learning. It needs to incorporate other data to make full VfM assessments.

Multiple criteria decision analysis (MCDA): Proceeds from the assumption that it is not appropriate to monetize social outcomes and that value is contested because of different interests/objectives. Thus, it includes a mix of quantitative and qualitative data and prioritizes debate and consensus-building among stakeholders rather than finding objective optimal solutions to problems. Variants of MCDA are widely used in aid agencies, e.g. DFID’s business cases, although they are not explicitly recognized as such and include only a limited number of stakeholder perspectives. Potentially an important idea for practitioners promoting transformative development.

Does anyone have any thoughts on these approaches, or how to strike a balance between upward and downward accountability?

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