Learning from the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Impact Evaluations

By Christopher Vincent, Habitat for Humanity International’s director of congressional relations and international affairs and co-chair of InterAction’s Millennium Challenge Account Working Group

I recently attended a Millennium Challenge Corporation briefing on the subject of impact evaluations. Admittedly, there are key differences between the MCC and large nongovernmental organizations like Habitat for Humanity. However, global development agencies like Habitat — looking to improve monitoring and evaluation efforts — can learn valuable lessons from the sector-leading approach of the MCC’s impact evaluations.

This week, the MCC released its first five impact evaluations from Honduras, Armenia, El Salvador, Ghana and Nicaragua. The website where the results are featured offers a treasure trove of information that should be mined by all those interested in improving program results.

While the global development field has long known that investing in impact evaluations is important, constraints such as limited resources and a lack of transparency have made them difficult to implement. This is why the results of the MCC evaluations are both important and rare for the global development community.

Monitoring and evaluation was one of the key elements of the MCC’s authorizing legislation, and the MCC has dedicated more than 5 percent of its program budget to M&E efforts. Of that, 40 percent will be spent on impact evaluations. These impact evaluations, conducted by third party entities, are using rigorous methods to determine the long-term results of program investments, or “ultimate outcomes” as they are described by the MCC.

The results from some programs are impressive and enlightening, while results in other countries are disappointing or impossible to obtain. For example, while the MCC clearly succeeded in increasing farm income in three of the country programs, the programs have not yet produced a measurable effect on household income, which is the stated long-term goal of the program.

For more than a decade, Habitat for Humanity, in coalition with other organizations, has monitored, supported and advocated for the MCC, created in 2004 to promote economic growth and the elimination of extreme poverty. Habitat, along with others, now applauds the MCC for its transparency and willingness to release to the broader global development community the lessons learned from these impact evaluations.

We should take advantage of the MCC’s efforts and the lessons being shared. Even though the MCC has a clear resource advantage compared to nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, there are opportunities for global development agencies to adopt many of these practices and to learn as much as possible from the MCC’s approach.

I look forward to seeing future evaluations from the MCC — especially those more closely associated with Habitat’s priorities, such as land tenure — and using those lessons to deepen the impact we hope to have on reducing poverty around the world.