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Bureaucrat Bob vs Bill Gates

I’m no fan of Bill Gates’ operating system, but I do like what he does with disease.

Let me explain why.  I came to the aid world from the government side.  I was a diplomat.  I didn’t like my job for many reasons, one of which was that government likes process and worse, it likes to measure process.  Why? Because it is easier than measuring impact and it looks far better. Allow me illustrate with an example.

Bureaucrat Bob is informed by his elected master that the government wants to “empower communities to fight AIDS” and gives him $1m from the budget to do so.  So Bob consults with experts and stakeholders and comes up with a plan to spend the money in a helpful fashion.  So far so good.  But his elected master needs to show results, fast.  The problem is that there is almost nothing you can do to combat HIV which will produce instant results.  It takes years for infection rates to drop.  So Bureaucrat Bob sends up a report highlighting how they are well on the way to success as demonstrated by the number of clinics being supported, the number of stakeholders who have been consulted, and the number of kits that have been distributed.  Busy busy busy! The politician trumpets these numbers in a speech, and puts it on his website, and talks about it on TV.

A year comes and goes, and the elected master asks Bob “How we doing?  AIDS fixed?”  The answer is “Errr no, but the incidence of new cases has been reduced by 5%.”  That may be a huge victory, but it’s a horrible sound bite.  So the elected master decides that this year he’s spending $2m and he’s going to DOUBLE the number of new clinics and the number of stakeholder meetings. Bob anticipates this and he has already tracked, and measured, and projected all these numbers.  In fact, he cut the budget for measuring impact in order to do so.   And the local clinics that Bob is funding?  He asks them for weekly reports on how many meetings and how many kits were distributed.  He doesn’t bother to ask them for how many new cases of AIDS are reported because, frankly he doesn’t care.

In an example from my experience with PDT, one government donor has given us a lot of money over several years to work on a particular problem.  They ask for reports, lots of them.  They want every metric you could imagine: how many women we employ; how many meetings we’ve held; how many people we’ve trained.  It goes on and on, but they have not once asked us what impact we’ve had.  The good news is that this particular project is a spectacular success and the impact is amazing.  But the donor doesn’t care.  It is process that counts.

Which is why I am feeling so fond towards Bill Gates this week.  He has spent over $700 million on polio eradication.  And he has lots of process metrics to show for it.  In fact, its pretty impressive how many people he has been able to inoculate.  But the impact?  Not so good.  In fact polio is actually spreading.  But he cares!  So Bill gathered some smart people together and they looked at the impact metrics and they came up with a new plan (to be announced next week).

And Bureaucrat Bob?  He has no idea if AIDS is getting better or worse, but to the delight of his elected master, he just announced that last year they were able to TRIPLE the number of stakeholders meetings.  Good job Bob.  Good job.

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