What we do


Our research work aims at developing a better understanding of why development interventions work – and why not. With a utilization-focused approach we research, refine and develop powerful tools for those planning, implementing and evaluating development programs. We also investigate the potential and the limitations of fundamental concepts much of today’s development planning and evaluation methodology is based on.

Currently, we pursue the following research projects:

  • Value for Money and Efficiency
  • Since 2009, we are actively investigating different methods for the analysis of the efficiency of development interventions. In June 2011, IfDS founder Markus Palenberg presented the study report “Tools and Methods for Evaluating the Efficiency of Development Interventions” at the OECD DAC Network on Development Evaluation in Paris. Several countries have expressed their interest in pursuing this line of work.

    The study report summarizes definitions and concepts with relevance to the terms efficiency and value for money and collects and assesses 15 distinct methods for the assessment of efficiency of development interventions. In our opinion, this effort represents the first instance in which efficiency methodology has been researched over its entire spectrum in development, ranging from gut-feeling based expert opinions to highly sophisticated approaches such as Cost-Benefit, Cost-Effectiveness and Cost-Utility Analysis and methods for Multi-Attribute Decision-Making. The report also issues several general recommendations on how to close the gap between what policy-makers expect and what evaluators deliver in terms of efficiency analysis. Do you want to learn more? Here are some links:

    Download the report “Tools and Methods for Evaluating the Efficiency of Development Interventions”
    Download a presentation given at the meeting of the OECD DAC Network on Development Evaluation
    Go to the AidEfficiency.org website

    We thank the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) for generously supporting this effort.

  • Result chains
  • This truly interdisciplinary research effort investigates the often criticized but nevertheless almost ubiquitously applied concept of results chains, i.e. the succession of logical steps of cause and effect linking program activities with program impact. This effort was kicked off by a 3 month study visit of IfDS founder Markus Palenberg at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in summer 2010.

    The results chain concept lies at the heart of many types of program theory-based evaluation, of logical frameworks, and of program strategic planning. The principal idea of conceptualizing causal connections is powerful and useful. Often, however, simple results chains are constructed for complex interventions, producing little additional insight. For example:

    • The very common framework of activity, output, outcome and impact becomes ambiguous if a second activity occurs along the results chain starting with the first activity;
    • One-dimensional chains that don’t allow multiple causes and effects may model something very far from reality;
    • Similar, linear chains in which twice the cause simply doubles the effect size and in which feedback loops are excluded may not allow any realistic description of development interventions;
    • Finally, uncertainty in terms of external effects, dependence on decisions and lack of knowledge are not always described adequately.

    The results chain research project identifies and translates relevant knowledge from different scientific fields in order to better define the results chain concept in development planning and evaluation. For example:

    • The theory of conditional probabilities and the treatment of stochastic events in Statistical Physics;
    • Directed, acyclic Graphs (DAGs) in causality and artificial intelligence research;
    • Flow diagrams in System Dynamics; and
    • The description of individuals, organizations and societies and the master equation approach in Sociodynamics.

    Based on our understanding of how causal chains are understood and applied in these very different scientific fields, we plan to synthesize practical guidance on how to construct what type of results chain under certain circumstances. Click here to download an early concept paper on this effort.

    We thank the German Humboldt Foundation for generously supporting this effort and welcome further intellectual contributions and financial support (contact us here).

  • Applied system dynamics
  • In this research effort, we plan to apply the System Dynamics approach originally developed by Jay W. Forrester in the 1960s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to problems in today’s development evaluation and planning. Following Forrester’s rather humble approach of not claiming to model reality but to merely point out some consequences of the complexity of socioeconomic systems, we plan to investigate and display some typical, counterintuitive effects that can often be found in development interventions.

    This research effort is in its concept phase and we welcome intellectual contributions and financial support (contact us here).

  • Global Development Mechanisms (GDMs)
  • International development assistance is provided by means of a diverse and sometimes confusingly colorful portfolio of different aid modalities. We have become interested in a loosely defined group of aid delivery mechanisms that are characterized by any of the following attributes, or any combination thereof:

    • Multilateral funding dedicated to a specific purpose;
    • Globally distributed activities; and
    • A globally distributed intermediary or ultimate target group.

    Earlier research has identified and researched several aid delivery mechanisms that are either contained or largely overlap with the concept of Global Development Mechanisms (GDMs), for example: International Financing Institutions/Mechanisms (IFIs) , Global and Regional Partnership Programs (GRPP) and Global Public-Private Partnerships (GPPPs). The findings of these and other research projects show that these new intervention types are clearly in fashion: the number of IFIs has more than doubled from 27 in 1994 to 60 in 2004 and the number of GPPP’s has risen significantly over the last decade. This increased prominence of GDMs is most likely motivated by aid-effectiveness-related harmonization attempts as well as the growing realization that collective action is needed for mitigating global risks.

    However, since the existing research was conducted independently from each other, the available definitions of different aid delivery mechanisms are not mutually exclusive and therefore not feasible as base for further research. By comparing the groups of GDIs categorized as IFIs, GRPP and GPPPs by the above mentioned authors, one can observe the following overlap:

    Also, little is known about  the rationale(s) behind the creation and design of such global mechanisms for aid delivery, i.e. to answer the following set of questions:

    • Why are these mechanisms created?
    • Why they are shaped as they are?
    • What makes them “global”?
    • Does their purpose justify their existence?
    • Is their design appropriate for reaching their objective?

    We are creating a feasible typology of GDIs that can be used to facilitate the comparison of their effectiveness in distinctive contexts. Click here to download an early draft approach paper.

    We welcome intellectual contributions and financial support for this research effort (contact us here).

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