Measuring Performance Versus Impact: Evaluation Practices and their Implications on Governance and Accountability of Humanitarian NGOs

MaryAnn Dakkak
Jun 2009
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research
In the context of increased scrutiny of humanitarian assistance over the past decade, issues around the accountability of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) - and the perceived lack thereof - have been discussed widely and frequently. This reflects the recognition of both the increased relevance of INGOs and of the underlying problems associated with their role. Donor agencies in particular have become increasingly concerned with the accountability of the operational agencies they fund, who in return have put in place elaborate evaluation processes and systems. What characterizes these approaches and how are they affecting the ways agencies operate and pursue their humanitarian missions? Were agencies successful in addressing accountability deficits and in correcting the respective incentives towards positive change in humanitarian action? When examining the prevailing practices of major humanitarian INGOs, this research identified not only a general absence of critical self-reflection and meaningful concern over achieved impact, but also a remarkable resistance of the same dilemmas that triggered the call for an ‘accountability revolution’ in the first place. Highlighting considerable weaknesses in the governance of these INGOs, this article confirms also a growing frustration among humanitarian professionals themselves that, while much is measured and evaluated, it is rarely the actual impact of their work. Instead it is apparent that evaluation as it mostly takes place today reflects primarily the needs of donors; is irrelevant for serious organizational learning and programming efforts; adds considerably to the burden of local staff and partners; and does little to shed light on the roles, influence and impact of INGOs as central actors in humanitarian action and protection.