Before Covid-19, before Black Lives Matter, the aid and development sector was already grappling with massive challenges – the ‘Aid too’ movement, the full-on attack on multilateralism, the toxic narrative against refugees, just to name a few. Yet, there was little questioning where to turn for solutions. The sector has responded to those challenges with a flurry of initiatives based on ‘best practices’ and widely accepted knowledge. Stricter measures have been introduced for higher protection from sexual exploitation and abuse in country programmes. In some cases, policymakers have started listening more to the voices of affected populations; in other cases, they have allowed for refugees’ participation in key policy discussions. Yet, the reforms enacted so far are still fundamentally grounded in traditional Western/Northern notions of what is best for ‘developing’ countries and their people.
“How do you measure social change?” As a consultant, I am often asked this question when I evaluate programmes or campaigns that are meant to produce some sort of social progress in the global South. I guess the underlying dilemma is about whether we can quantify qualitative changes, such as better dialogue between aid donors and civil society organisations. Is there a way to measure quality with numbers?