The Independent Evaluation Office approved by the Union Cabinet hopes to improve the design of flagship programmes through regular feedbacks

The Union Cabinet approved the establishment of an Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) in August to undertake impartial and objective assessment of the various public programmes and improve the effectiveness of public interventions. 

The body, which has been given an independent status, shall evaluate programmes of the Central government, particularly its flagship schemes.

Impact evaluation is aimed at providing feedback in order to help improve the design of programmes and policies. In addition to providing for improved accountability, impact evaluations are a tool for dynamic learning, allowing policymakers to improve ongoing programmes and ultimately allocate funds across programmes better.

Presenting his vision for institutionalising impact evaluation of development programmes in India, Ajay Chhibber, Director General, Independent Evaluation Office, pointed out that “we have wasted enormous resources in India on programmes that were designed without a clear idea of their impact on people. Spending a very tiny fraction upfront on impact evaluation can make a huge difference to how these programmes will produce results, reduce corruption and wastage and improve people's lives.”

Mr. Chhibber explained that the agency was aiming to complete its first few evaluation reports in time to provide material for evidence-based policy for the new government after the 2014 general elections.

The IEO had a commitment from the government that its reports, once completed and signed as final, would be shared simultaneously with Parliament, the Prime Minister and the public, Mr. Chhibber said. He was speaking at a conference on the experience of impact evaluation, organised by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, a U.S. non-profit organisation.

The IEO’s first task was to examine the public distribution system (PDS) in partnership with specialised institutions to provide baseline information for the roll-out of the Food Security Law — an entitlement programme that covers 67 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion population under a subsidised grain regime. 

The other task for the IEO would be to look at rural electrification.

 “There are still substantial parts which are not connected and those that are connected either get sporadic power or free power,” Mr. Chhibber said. He cited the example of Vietnam, which has been able to provide electricity to 96 per cent of its villages and collect charges from 99.8 per cent of consumers.

Complementing the creation of such establishments, Howard White, Executive Director, International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), said: “The creation of the IEO in India is a step in the right direction. It can start a public dialogue about the nature of, and need for, evidence in public policy; engage with Central and State officials to agree on evaluation priorities and ensure these results are available to policymakers.”

“Governments have started commissioning impact evaluations but with limited plan on what to do with the evidence produced,” he added.

The conference was also attended by representatives from various State governments. Rakesh Verma, Principal Secretary, Planning, Government of Rajasthan, spoke about how government programmes in the desert State were changed following independent evaluations. He cited the case of a programme that provided cycles to school-going girls in the State.

“We had this programme for girls but found that school enrolment for girls was not going up. An evaluation showed that less than five per cent of the cycles were reaching the girls in workable condition,” said Mr. Verma.

“The evaluation produced evidence and showed us the gaps in the system of producing cycles and transporting them to rural areas. We, then, changed our policy and started giving out vouchers for buying cycles,” he added.

Addressing the need for tools in the hands of policymakers, Manisha Verma, Joint Secretary, National Advisory Council, said: “Pratham’s reports provide credible feedback about our education system. But NCERT also has similar tools but their reports don’t come in time.”

Ms. Verma also spoke about social audits which have become part of the government audit system. “Today the community can tell you about teachers who come to school regularly and those who don’t. It has proved to be an effective mechanism for feedback.”

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