Discover more from Evaluation and Value for Investment
Welcome to Evaluation and Value for Investment
Directory to key posts
This is Evaluation and Value for Investment, a series about disrupting ‘value for money’ assessment to make it more valid and credible in a wider range of contexts, more inclusive, more value-focused, and more useful. I may also go off-piste occasionally and write about other interesting things.
It’s free to subscribe. Most articles will be free for the first two months after posting. To access the full archive, there’s a free 7-day trial period or you can become a paid subscriber.
Here’s a thematic summary of the main topics I’ve covered to date:
The Value for Investment approach
I developed the Value for Investment approach through doctoral research, to bring greater clarity to answering evaluative questions about how well resources are used, whether enough value is created, and how more value may be created from the resources invested in a policy, program or initiative.
As policy and program evaluators, development professionals, impact investors, and decision-makers, we know these ‘value for money’ questions are important questions but they can also be hard to answer. When I looked at the current state of VfM assessment I saw that it was often:
Too funder-centric, neglecting important perspectives like communities who were supposed to benefit from an intervention
Too accountability-focused, missing opportunities to inform learning and improvement
Too simplistic, ignoring the complexities of real-world programs
Too focused on cost reduction, quantitative evidence and monetary valuation, leaving stakeholders feeling short-changed because the assessment didn’t capture the full value of their investment.
We can address all of these problems, and we must, because VfM is critically important to making good decisions with limited resources. The Value for Investment approach is my contribution toward better VfM assessment.
The following posts introduce the Value for Investment system and offer practical strategies for using the approach:
Rubrics and evaluative reasoning
Rubrics and evaluative reasoning are the bedrock of the Value for Investment system. A rubric is a matrix of criteria (aspects of performance) and standards (levels of performance) that evaluators use as a scaffold to make sense of evidence and render a warranted value judgement. In other words, a rubric is a way of making evaluative reasoning explicit.
The following posts focus on the nature of evaluative reasoning, why I think rubrics are a good way to do it, and practical tips for working with rubrics.
Program theory and value propositions
One aspect of the Value for Investment approach is building value creation into a theory of change. A theory of change typically describes how a policy, program or initiative is thought to contribute to a set of impacts through a set of actions. Implicitly, it may focus on activities and impacts that people value, but we can’t take this for granted.
A theory of value creation is a new addition to the field of program theory, which augments a theory of change to consider questions about value, such as:
What’s the program’s value proposition?
What kinds of resources are invested in this program? Invested by who?
What kinds of value does the program create? Value to who? From whose perspective?
How is value created?
How is value distributed?
How long does the value last?
Under what conditions is value created? What factors influence the extent to which resources are transformed into worthwhile value?
For all of the above: Who decides?
These sorts of value questions can prompt us to think differently about a program. For example, in addition to what’s already in the theory of change, we may need to consider what it would mean for the program to manage resources well, deliver its services or products efficiently, create enough value and distribute the value fairly enough to be considered worth doing. Thinking about these issues can be helpful when it comes to developing context-specific VfI criteria - critical, observable aspects of performance that determine the extent to which a program provides good value for the resources invested in it.
The following posts explore theories of value creation with hypothetical and real examples:
Economic methods of evaluation
Value for Investment is an inter-disciplinary approach - because “good resource use” is a shared domain of evaluation (determining the goodness of things) and economics (studying how people choose to use resources). The VfI approach encourages the inclusion of economic methods of evaluation within a wider framework, where feasible and appropriate. Economic methods of evaluation are valid, important, and contribute important pieces of evidence to help inform evaluative judgements.
I argue that evaluators should welcome these methods into the field of program evaluation and use them more often, but usually not on their own. I advocate for their use within mixed methods evaluations, alongside other methods.
Posts about cost-benefit analysis:
Posts about other economic methods of evaluation: