Staff Writer l Palladium - Jun 14 2022
USAID is Pushing for Equity in Development, Can Better Data Help?

Credit: Health Policy Plus

When President Joe Biden took office in 2021 and announced an Executive Order On Racial Equity, USAID Administrator Samantha Power heeded the call, outlining exactly how the development agency would establish policies and practices to promote racial equity.

USAID’s new goal is to make aid more accessible, equitable, and responsive. But how exactly is that possible? Through a series of five new reports, Palladium’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning, and Analytics (MELA) team explores how data generation and use can support and hinder equity goals in international development.

“Evidence based decision making is a critical tenet of leadership, for corporations, organisations, projects, and others,” explains Palladium Director of Measurement and Learning, Molly Cannon.

“MELA is the engine that provides that evidence, so it’s critical that it has a DEIA [diversity, equity, inclusion, and access] focus – who determines what data is collected and analysed and what it means is at the centre of that discussion – and if we don’t get that part right, then the evidence generated can lead to erroneous and at times disastrous consequences for those we most hope to serve.” She adds that though it’s often not intentional, those errors can be an unintended consequence of insufficient consideration of DEIA in a project’s lifecycle.

Cannon notes that the MELA team is looking for ways to systematically apply DEIA approaches throughout program design and implementation. “The MELA team has spent the last few months in deep contemplation about how we can best do this, and this series has been an opportunity to bring that thinking to more actionable, concrete steps for the organisation.” Each of the five reports digs into different aspects of how to integrate DEIA principles into MELA work specifically in international development and highlights project examples where this has worked well.

“The authors of these articles are passionate, committed development experts – and have expertise not only in MELA methods, but across the development spectrum – in agriculture, health, finance and investment, and energy,” adds Cannon.

Optimising Monitoring Approaches

The first report in the series, by Vivian Agbegha, focuses on project monitoring, its importance for achieving development objectives, and how to drive more equitable outcomes through inclusive, participatory monitoring practices. The report introduces a framework for integrating DEIA priorities into monitoring and notes that the key is to meaningfully including the communities with which the project works throughout the monitoring process.

Inclusive and Equitable Learning

The second instalment, by Jessica Li, dives into Participatory Learning and Action, an approach to encourage more inclusive and equitable learning from project data by all actors to sustain positive impact. Data has the power to advance learning and enhance decision-making for projects, but, just like anything else, its impact depends on who exactly sets the agenda and benefits from it. By developing a more inclusive approach to data gathering, analysis, and review, a data-informed project is more likely to maximise its people-level impacts.

Embedding Equity in Big Data

Allison Fox writes in the third report that as data is scaled and its use is increased, there’s a risk of also embedding and scaling biases within the analytical outputs. As AI (Artificial Intelligence) and big data analytics have the potential to increase data usage and help identify, understand, and address inequities, they also have the potential to overlook diversity and exacerbate inequities. Embedding ethical considerations through DEIA-driven analytics is critical to scaling data usage in an equitable way.

Promoting Equitable and Inclusive Accountability

What does it mean to be held accountable in aid delivery? Is it using power responsibly or establishing clear responsibility for projects? Christina Williams writes in the fourth report that by addressing power dynamics in development and shifting to more equitable approaches that harness the strength of communities, aid organisations can achieve accountability, advancing towards minimising the impacts of systemic colonisation.

Centring Equity in Cost-Inclusive Evaluation

In the final instalment of the series, Lauren Morris dives into how cost-inclusive evaluation can inform organisations to better allocate resources towards project objectives to ensure efficient and equitable outcomes across groups. The report focuses on how the process can do more than simply help determine budgets across projects, but also address equity in a project’s social outcomes.

“What really struck me as we worked through this series was how much the articles evolved, and how we worked together to expand our own thinking and understanding of the importance of DEIA,” says Cannon. “The team has been participating and presenting at conferences and webinars, reading articles, and discussing these topics in our technical excellence and quality groups.”

She concludes that through the peer review process for developing the series, the team learned how much language and process matters and reflected on global initiatives, critical events, and devastating impacts on communities in which many organisations work. “It has emboldened us to reflect more and do better.”

Read Promoting Equitable Outcomes in International Development and for more information, contact Download the first report by Vivian Agbegha, second report by Jessica Li, third report by Allison Fox, fourth report by Christina Williams, and fifth report by Lauren Morris.