Category Archives: Blog

Capacity development is a great key to success

Recently I did an evaluation of a programme on improving food security of households in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. The activies ranged from formation and strengthening of community based organisations to immprovement of agricultural productivity, creation of cereal banks, improvement of market access, awareness raising on natural resource protection and a lot of other activities.

The most important result: Training and capacity building are the most important and sustainable activities to include in development programmes. If you get them right and you follow the training measures regularly up, you are on a great way to success, right as the often quoted proverb says: Give a man/woman a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him/her how to fish and you feed him/her for a lifetime.

Fishermen in Sri LankaNot only technical capacities and skills are needed, but especially good management of time, human resources and money during the whole project cycle. This includes a good and realistic match between those three pillars and the planned activities.

Not surprisingly, the involvement of key stakeholders in project design is another key to success. It massively increases the success of project and programme activities.

What has history to do with evaluation?

My first degree is in history and languages, my second in rural development with a specialisation in evaluation. Only after some time I found the connection between these fields that at first sight seem not to have much in common: In evaluation often we look back to find out how things happened, what worked, what did not work, why,….In history we do more or less the same. If we don’t know the past, we can’t improve the present and the future. And we need language to communicate effectively with different stakeholders.

So, finally the combination of historical science and evaluation doesn’t seem so strange anymore. What do you think?

Evaluation in development cooperation – tensions between feasibility and scientific rigour

On Monday, 21 January 2015, I had the chance to assist in a very interesting speech given by Dr. Eva Terberger from the KfW Bank in Germany on this topic at Vienna University of Economics. Dr. Terberger is the head of the independent evaluation unit within KfW.

It was interesting to see how, influenced by the global discourse on rigorous evaluations and randomised controlled trials (especially Ester DufloPoverty Action lab) as the gold standard of evaluation, KfW made several attempts to design and carry out experimental evaluations for infrastructure projects. Resulting from these experiences Dr. Terberger shared some of the reflections on RCTs:

  • in fragile contexts randomisation is hardly possible (for example in Mali a RCT was jeopardized by the outbreak of the civil war)
  • there is only limited possibility to transfer knowledge between programmes as context matters so much
  • the cost to carry out such experiments is just extremely high with a quite limited information gain, so they found the method not very cost-effective
  • to measure the impact of large infrastructure projects as financed by KfW is almost impossible with this method as there are no control groups to define

In conclusion, KfW prefers to adopt a mixed methods approach with expert judgements based on data, facts and appraisals.

It will be interesting to see if other institutions in the world will adopt RCTs as THE standard in development evaluation or if RCTs in development evaluation will remain
itself an experiment or a short-term phenomenon.


Today I woke up and one of my first thoughts were the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) that we should have achieved by the end of this year. Eight goals that had the potential to improve the lives of Millions of people in the world and to make this world a better place to live. It is now clear that the goals will not be reached by the end of this year on a global scale. Certainly, there have been large improvements and success in some countries, but, unfortunately, we can’t say that today for all goals and for all countries.

Millennium Development Goals

Why could the MDGs not be achieved overall? Was the time-span too small, the goals too ambitious, the money made available too little, the political will lacking or implementation poor?

It will be interesting to analyse the achievements of countries with a similar development status in 2000, context and similar amounts of money available and to find out why some are doing better now than others. Are the success factors more endogenous or exogenous? What comes next? Since a couple of years already scholars, practicioners and politicians discuss about post-2015 strategies.

I am convinced that goal setting is a fundamental step necessary prior to action. Where do we want to go? Which means do we have available to go there, how much time? But we know from many failures in development practice that all those who should reach the goals need to be involved in the agreement on them. In fact, one critique of the MDGs is this lack of involvement and also that the goals did not respect the local context and needs. Maybe every country should develop its own post-MDG agenda and context-specific “roadmap” linked to PRSPs. 15 years are quite short in order to achieve structural transformation in the many aspects covered by the original eight goals. Sometimes we forget how much time Western countries needed to be where they are now.

I wish all those involved in the development of policies and goals, in the implementation of development measures that they learn a lot from the past 15 years so that they can create a new vision for their countries. Political commitment, democracy, equality, respect of human rights and good governance are certainly some of the necessary preconditions to do better.

Ethiopia’s economic boom and the future of agriculture

On 8 November 2014 I assisted a very interesting event at the BOKU organised by the Center for Development Research (CDR). The topic was “Ethopia’s economic boom and the future of agriculture”. Ethiopia’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Mebrahtu Meles, was answering to questions of Prof. Michael Hauser, head of the CDR on this topic.

It was very interesting to hear the Minister’s words on how the actual growth rates of 9% during the last years have been achieved. He explained that the “secret” behind the success is based on the three pillars

  1. Inclusive and sustainable development
  2. Democracy and
  3. Good governance

The focus areas of the last decade were education, health, infrastructure and agriculture in order to eradicate poverty. In fact, poverty has come down from 46% to 24% within the last ten years. Enrolment in primary school is almost 100% now. Education is for free. Only in higher education, there is cost sharing. An important measure was the massive introduction of extension workers in every village, he further explained, as well as investment in roads, telecommunications, power and social infrastructure.


The vision of Ethiopia is to become a middle-income country by 2025. In order to do so there is a strong focus on agro-processing and agri-business. All small-scale farmers should be transformed into “commercial farmers”. But it did not become clear to me how “commercial farmers” has to be understood because also small farmers aim to produce for the market. Does it mean that they will produce mainly for the export market? Wouldn’t this be again a threat to food security and being exposed to the volatility of international markets? And what about the environmental consequences on “commercial farming”? The Minister mentioned a green development policy that is in place, as well as soil conservation and tree plantation programs. But at the same time Ethiopia aims to boost production through a strong focus on biotechnology that despite the “bio” is certainly not organic farming practice.

One other question was on the tip of my tongue, but there was no time to ask it. If Ethiopia is now a food secure country based on democracy and good governance, as the Minister said, how comes that only in 2011/12 a large part of Ethiopia’s population was threatened by hunger and many even died? Don’t we know, also from Sen’s studies on famines, that in democratic countries no one has to die of hunger even in case of a drought?

In conclusion, I think it will be interesting to observe during the coming decades the economic and agricultural development of a country that aims to make the great step from low-income to middle-income country.