Adam Weber is a second-year International Development student from Alameda, California and a senior editor of SAIS Perspectives.

Dr. Robert Klitgaard, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and former Dean of Pardee RAND, spoke at the third Development Roundtable of 2018. His speech centered on strengthening policy analysis and evaluation, or, as he puts it, moving from Version 1.0 to Version 2.0. The idea is to avoid simply collecting data about a development project and then presenting recommendations. Rather, the goal should be to consider whether the people helped in a project are empowered to make their own decisions, and whether relationships with and among those people are strengthened. Perspectives sat down with Dr. Klitgaard after his talk to expand on some of his points.

Perspectives: Culture is obviously an important factor when you, an outsider, go to another country to evaluate a project. How does Version 2.0 take culture into account?

Dr. Klitgaard: Cultural diversity, in terms of values, skills, and norms, has benefits but also costs, namely the potential for conflict. Navigating through those differences and avoiding conflict is a first-order skill. It means you enter into a foreign environment well-prepared for culture shock. You have been trained to recognize your own preconceptions about the culture you are about to engage with. It also means you are careful about how you present your ideas. Your idea of a concept might very well be different from what the people you are working with are thinking. That does not mean they have to give up their culture to work with you. On the contrary, it means you must adapt to them, and choose your words carefully to convey the meaning you want.

Perspectives: Building relationships and taking the time to engage with the community where you are working sounds wonderful. But in the real world, with time and budget constraints, is it always practical?

Dr. Klitgaard: It depends on the nature of the project. If you are evaluating a brewery, for example, there is a standard procedure for that, with little cost and interaction involved. That is definitely something you can do from afar. On the other hand, to evaluate a health clinic, you will need lots of face-to-face communication and assimilation. You could try to evaluate a project like that from afar, but sometimes you will fail. The point is that you have to understand the nature of the project you are working on.

Perspectives: How can SAIS prepare us to be better evaluators?

Dr. Klitgaard: In grad school, you learn to be critical. When someone throws a term at you like “equal opportunity,” you learn how to unpack that. On the one hand that experience might make you cynical, but on the other it trains you to listen very carefully. You know not to accept a term at face value, but to ask for examples and clarification. That is a skill you can take to the field.

Perspectives: You often talk about moving beyond the data when evaluating a project. Does the data have any intrinsic value?

Dr. Klitgaard: When you are working with another country, you use the data to show them how they’re doing—in terms of governance, for example. You raise their consciousness. You are not saying to them, “You should be more like us.” Instead, you are presenting some quantifiable information and getting a conversation started. That is what data is for—to start the conversation. You show examples, and you tell a story about how another country facing the same situation has done better. Data is not an end—it’s how you use the information that matters, the higher-level connections that you form. That being said, you still need someone to go out there and get the data.

Perspectives is grateful to Dr. Klitgaard for taking the time to talk with us. We also thank the IDEV program for organizing the Development Roundtable.

PHOTO CREDIT: Henry Donati/DFID, from Flickr Creative Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.