As the Philippines embarks on an ambitious plan to recover from the (COVID-19) pandemic, it is important to build a learning loop to know what investments are working and who is benefiting from them. Development partners stand ready to help the government’s efforts to evaluate programs and projects, including through the use of big data.
Whether they are combatting initial or subsequent surges of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, countries are also struggling with the challenge of economic recovery. What should be the priority investments to stimulate growth and to help people, especially the poor and vulnerable, get back on their feet? In the Philippines, government agencies prepared ambitious plans as early as May with well thought-out documents like “We Recover As One”. Some of these investments are being done with assistance from external partners like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and are implementing already planned and needed projects, such as the infrastructure around “Build, Build, Build”, including the Malolos–Clark Railway Project, to help spur sustainable and inclusive growth. Others are truly innovative, such as the “Bayan Bayanihan food program”, which uses a granular poverty map from satellite imagery to identify and deliver swiftly to priority needy communities in Metro Manila.
Will these investments actually achieve what they set out to do? Will they benefit those who were originally intended? It is critical to know, not only for accountability, but also to learn lessons. Some of these lessons can allow mid-course adjustments as implementation takes place to maximize the chances of success. Those learned at project closure can help inform planning for future investments.
Fortuitously, the Philippines has already used evaluations to move forward. Learning from the experiences of other countries which had pioneered conditional cash transfers (CCTs), the country in the late 2000s piloted, evaluated, and expanded what is now its largest social protection scheme, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). The 4Ps provides cash grants to poor households based on their fulfillment of health and education-related conditions, and over 4.3 million poor families have benefited from the program. With support from partners like ADB and the World Bank, independent evaluations have confirmed the 4Ps’ significant benefits to poor households, such as higher school enrollment and lower incidence of hunger. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), with the support of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie)―a global leader in producing and synthesizing rigorous and policy-relevant evidence―and the Australian Embassy, have supported the rigorous assessment of programs to enhance the employment chances of students (through the Department of Labor and Employment), sustain livelihoods of those seeking to escape poverty (through the Department of Social Welfare and Development), and make the justice system more effective and efficient (the Supreme Court).
In the future, we hope that the country can build on these shared experiences to ensure that the upcoming programs benefit from the best evidence possible. This would entail reviewing more systematically the lessons learned from other settings. ADB, for example, has just published two such reviews of what works to improve energy and transportation interventions―both priority areas for the government. 3ie’s online development evidence portal has over 4,000 studies, which can be easily searched by topic and evaluation question.
We would also encourage Philippine agencies to work with NEDA and the academic community to replicate the promising examples of how decisions can be better informed by better evidence. Partners such as ADB and 3ie, among others, stand ready to help. ADB, for example, has an impact evaluation technical assistance program and the Australian Embassy has generously renewed its partnership with NEDA and 3ie for more similar studies. In this way, the country can learn as it recovers from the pandemic. Indeed, such an approach will benefit other countries as well, especially in the post-pandemic context.