Assessment of IFAD’s policy impact in Asia

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Assessment of IFAD’s policy impact in Asia

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©IFAD/Minzayar Oo/Panos

IFAD understands that projects alone cannot eradicate rural poverty or generate rural transformation because, inevitably, they reach a limited number of people. However, projects can serve as a space in which to innovate and experiment with new possible policy solutions which might be able to achieve these larger impacts. Moreover, by feeding the lessons learned back to local, national and international actors, projects can also be a lever for influencing public policies and national-level programmes, thus bringing about systemic change.

While policy engagement is increasingly considered a key dimension of development cooperation, there have been few attempts by development agencies to systematically monitor and evaluate the impact of their work in this area. In recent years, IFAD has sought to strengthen its engagement in country-level policy processes, and to develop a range of tools to more effectively monitor and evaluate this work.

In this context, IFAD commissioned a study aimed at developing and testing a methodology for assessing its policy impact. The exercise, conducted in four selected countries – India, Indonesia, Nepal and Viet Nam, reviewed the experience of IFAD's policy engagement in those countries. It also analysed the impact of that work; identified the key factors that contributed to these results and those that limited the success, drew out lessons for future policy work; and proposed a credible, cost-effective and replicable methodology that can be used to undertake similar exercises at country and regional levels. The findings were published in the IFAD Research Series Issue 26 - Exploration of a methodology for assessing the impact of policy engagement. What impact and how to assess it?

Study methodology

The methodology developed resulted in the study being conducted in three stages:

1. Development of the hypothesis – articulation of the IFAD Country-level policy engagement (CLPE) contribution narrative and preparation of a background report. In each country, a national expert, with guidance from the IFAD country office, prepared a background report on the case study CLPE intervention. This included a statement of the IFAD contribution narrative, which articulated IFAD’s perception of the impact of the intervention under review on national policy and formed the hypothesis to be tested during the second phase. It also identified potential key informants from across a range of sectors who were knowledgeable about the policy process under review.

2. Testing of the hypothesis – in-country exploration of the narrative using a bellwether interview approach. In each country, the review team of an international expert and the national expert spent five days interviewing between 17 and 30 key informants, or ‘bellwethers’, drawn from six distinct spheres: civil service, politics, civil society, development partners, academia and media. The semi-structured interviews started with an assessment of the specific policy change, and then identified the key determinants of the change – which could be IFAD-driven but was not necessarily.

3. Write-up of study findings. Following the in-country work, the international specialist wrote up the findings of the study. This was shared in draft form with the four national experts and then with the four IFAD country offices/country programme managers and the commissioners of the study, to seek their input and comments prior to its finalization.

The four cases reviewed were (a) in Nepal, the transformation of an IFAD‑financed pilot project into a national policy and programme for leasehold forestry; (b) in India, testing and then scaling up across North Eastern India approaches to community-based resource management; (c) in Indonesia, informing the government’s approach to implementing its already-approved Village Law; and (d) in Viet Nam, supporting the definition of the second phase of the National Targeted Program on New Rural Development (NTP-NRD). The broad findings were that in three of the cases, IFAD-supported projects had played a key role in bringing to the attention of governments new ways of addressing rural poverty issues; and that these had led to policy change or to expanded policy influence for IFAD. In at least two of the cases, it was concluded that the projects had been allowed to ‘speak for themselves’, and that influence was achieved by policy makers viewing the success of implementation modalities or policy innovation. In these cases, a more concerted and direct policy engagement agenda could have resulted in a greater impact in terms of policy change and sustainability. In the fourth case, IFAD itself was a direct and contributing player in the national process of policy change, but informants suggested that the policy reforms would probably have happened even in the absence of IFAD’s engagement.

Ways forward

The methodology was effective in gaining multiple external perspectives that served to identify the real contribution of IFAD Country-level policy engagement activities to processes of policy formulation, implementation and review. It was also useful in terms of identifying the key factors that contributed to these outcomes, and the process and resource allocation revisions required to support the expansion of CLPE programming within IFAD, at both country level and institutionally.

Analysis of the four case study interventions identified a number of common factors that have affected CLPE performance. Above all, there have been clear tensions between IFAD’s in-country staffing levels, financing modalities, operational instruments and historic mandate on the one hand; and increased CLPE activity, including the facilitation of domestic national policy discourse, on the other. In the studied countries, IFAD has not had the resource base needed to participate in ongoing policy discourses or to carry out significant direct CLPE requiring IFAD staff engagement. As a result, IFAD has focused on indirect policy engagement related to its implementation models, drawing on IFAD’s specific institutional competence and a key aspect of IFAD programming.  

Looking forward, the new decentralised institutional model and prioritisation of policy engagement in budgeting and reporting processes, offer new opportunities for a more pro-active, deeper and consistent approach, and for a more substantial and sustainable policy impact.


Find out more: Research Series Issue 26 - Exploration of a methodology for assessing the impact of policy engagement. What impact and how to assess it?