The obsession with measuring it is paralysing aid workers, there is no way to fully understand the impact of development.
I would wager that, at any given moment, the majority of aid workers in the world are doing the exact same thing. We like to imagine aid workers out in the field, but that’s not the true focus of activities. Instead, most aid workers are hunched over their computers, trying to figure out a way to measure their impact. How do we know if what we’re doing makes a difference? And, equally important – can we capture this on an Excel spreadsheet?
We spend hours, weeks, months, trying to measure our impact – donors demand that we do so, yet it also satisfies our own need for reassurance. We pay lip service to the belief that impact measurement is difficult, but we rarely question whether it is actually possible. Perhaps there lies an existential fear – if we can’t measure our impact, than are we having any at all?
Yet the world doesn’t work this way. Causality is simply too complex, no matter what domestic or international issue we are trying to address. No logframe or theory of change is capable of capturing the full interplay of factors that determine why things are as they are, much less how and why they change.
As Primo Levi writes in The Drowned and the Saved: “Without a profound simplification the world around us would be an infinite, undefined tangle that would defy our ability to orient ourselves and decide upon our actions … We are compelled to reduce the knowable to a schema.”
These schema are sufficient to allow us to navigate our everyday lives, yet they are far too imprecise to draw anything but the broadest generalisations when it comes to the best way to address social issues, much less measure discrete impact. We can, at best, see through a glass, darkly