So an economist walks into the office and someone asks, “How’s your day going?” to which the economist responds, “Relative to what?”
You may not be laughing, but that’s okay. Relative value is a serious issue, one that the international development community has long skirted.
Government aid agencies, donor agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private foundations all generate piles and piles of information about their programs. They have proposals, memorandums-of-understanding, contracts, grant applications, yearly/quarterly/monthly/weekly reports and evaluations, and other knowledge-sharing publications. These documents work well, as might complex derivatives or informal property rights, until the time comes to compare the relative value of what those documents represent – financial assets, real assets, or development projects. If there is no standardized and centralized process for comparing relative value, for-profit enterprises lose credit, while public or private non-profit entities lose credibility.
The international development community is suffering from a credibility crunch. Every year, promises like the G8’s recent $20 billion for agricultural development coincide with findings like the global hungry recently surpassing a billion people. Even if such lofty promises came true, clouds of criticism and doubt still surround who gets those resources, why they get them, what they are supposed to do with them, and what they actually do with them. Although project monitoring and evaluation have long been recognized as vital to the work of international development, comparing the relative value of one project to the next or one organization to the next, is next to impossible.