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Value for money in international development programmes: using economics methods to justify programme and intervention spending

Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 17:00 to 18:30

Jacqueline Mallender, Chief Executive of Matrix Knowledge (TMKG Ltd) presented at the 3ie-LIDC seminar in the series ‘What works in international development’ held on 6 September 2012 on the topic of ‘Value for money in international development programmes’.

The speaker noted that the question of ‘what works’ is of paramount importance to policy-makers and practitioners striving to improve the lives of individuals, communities and wider society. That question can be answered through structured reviews of good quality evaluations that share some common characteristics, namely they all select, critique and synthesise reliable evidence; draw from published and unpublished studies; and use explicit, systematic and replicable methods. 

The Cochrane Collaboration and the Campbell Collaborations are two bodies that work to gather evidence of what works in health care and other areas. 

Another key question asked by policy-makers and practitioners alike is whether interventions are ‘worth it’. To answer it, economists take three main factors into account: the cost and the value of benefits; return on investment; and what we can afford (as well as how to prioritise possible interventions). The Campbell & Cochrane Economics Methods Group (CCEMG) are among the organisations that try to answer these challenging questions through synthesising the evidence available. 

Economists have developed tools and methods to value and quantify costs and benefits to support policy decisions. An economic analysis can consist of:

  • A cost-utility analysis
  • A cost-benefit analysis
  • A cost-consequence analysis

Systematic reviews of economic evaluations, in turn, help review and synthesise evidence from already published studies. Such reviews, mostly available in the health sector, are, however, not free from challenges, such as a variation in methods; different contexts of the studies; experiments being hard to implement; complex outcomes; unit costs being hard to calculate, etc.

Given these challenges, one may ask when systematic reviews are best applied, and to what end.  According to Mallender, such reviews can be used to inform the development of decision models; identify the most relevant existing studies to inform a jurisdiction specific issue;  identify the key trade-offs implicit in a given policy choice; and  map the present state of knowledge. 

The speaker concluded that in order to be able to use economic evaluations to inform policy, we need to invest in primary economic evaluation studies to inform jurisdiction specific policy decisions and develop methods to build and populate more robust decision models. 

More about the 3ie-LIDC Seminar Series

The 3ie-LIDC seminar series ‘What works in international development’ has been running on a monthly basis since January 2011, attracting a large and diverse audience of academics, policy-makers and development practitioners. It explores key issues in impact evaluation of development interventions.

The next seminar in the series will take place on 11 October 2012. 

Additional resources

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    Package icon Jacque Mallender revised slides.zip2.73 MB
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