Service delivery indicators will help keep development assistance on track

Young children in school. Ghana

In the midst of federal budget negotiations in D.C., ONE is even more focused than ever on ensuring that funding for life-saving programs is protected.

Photo Credit: The World Bank, Flickr

A big part of that effort is ensuring that resources that are allocated for programs that fight extreme poverty and preventable disease are used effectively to maximize impact despite tight budget constraints.

As many of you know, ONE is an advocacy organization that pressures world leaders to adopt smart policies towards the developing world. As part of our campaign on transparency, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Gayle Martin, SDI Program Leader and Senior Economist at The World Bank, about her work on measuring humanitarian assistance expenditures and outcomes.

Not sure what SDI surveys are, how they work, and why they are important? Service Delivery Indicators (SDI) track performance and quality of service delivery in primary schools and health facilities across the African continent. SDI’s are considered to be a trusted data source for both international and domestic policymakers, NGOs and media outlets to inform policies, track performance and hold officials accountable for where humanitarian assistance is being spent and how. In other words, SDI’s aim to help improve public services and correct inefficient spending.

SDI surveys conducted across the continent have shown that there is a weak correlation between spending and outcomes in both the health and education sectors. This suggests that the quality of care and schooling is not necessarily associated with the amount of funding an institution or facility receives, as one would expect.

The biggest problem is that health technicians and educators aren’t necessarily well-trained or well-equipped. Many facilities lack the necessary infrastructure, supplies and training for employees to perform their jobs properly. The student-teacher ratio, the number of textbooks per student, availability of prescription drugs, and access to medical equipment all affect how well healthcare workers and teachers can carry-out their job responsibilities.

Dr. Martin emphasized the absentee rate amongst teachers and clinicians as one of the primary sources of inefficiency in development efforts, yet despite its widespread occurrence, there are few measures of how often it occurs and the impact that it has. Service Delivery Indicators aim to correct that.

You might be shocked to know that 31 percent of public school teachers in Kenya were present at school but did not show up to class on any given day and urban teachers in Tanzania spend 1.4 hours out of a total of 5.2 hours of the day teaching. When there are young students sitting in those classrooms, these statistics are unacceptable.

There’s also a lack of understanding around health provider’s competency levels. In fact, only a third of clinicians in Tanzania could correctly diagnose potentially fatal medical conditions or diseases. In cases like malaria and pneumonia that are easily treatable, the fact that they might be misdiagnosed or mistreated is appalling.

Dr. Martin made a point that’s sure to resonate with citizens all over the world, especially during times of economic hardship. She suggested that it is not necessarily a matter of demanding more money to fund these projects, as much as it is a matter of using current resources more effectively and efficiently, particularly in an environment where funding is scarce. The results of these surveys are a call for the development community to better evaluate where current funding is going and ask ourselves how we can achieve lasting change in poor communities with current funding levels.