Sen. Coleman's call for accountability

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: July 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: July 15, 2003 - Office of Senator Norm Coleman: Senator Norm Coleman call for "Greater Accountability" at Peace Corps : Sen. Coleman's call for accountability

By paul sack on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 1:49 am: Edit Post

Senator Coleman,

Your call for accountability in the Peace Corps could hardly be a more important and timely contribution to its success. Under recent and present leaders, virtually all feedback from overseas about how well or badly programs work out has been eliminated. I am a veteran of the early days of the Peace Corps when accountability was established by annual independent evaluations of programs. The only evaluations that now take place are audits of administrative procedures by the Inspector General dep't.

I have raised this issue with the current management of the Peace Corps and have even offered the services--as volunteers--of former Peace Corps country directors to conduct overseas evaluations of programs. The current leadership of the Peace Corps apparently do not want to know what works and what does not work overseas, although it is obviously impossible to manage or improve the Peace Corps without that information.

By Bill Salisbury on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 11:07 am: Edit Post

Though I am a current staff member of the office of Planning, Policy and Analysis (PPA) at the Peace Corps, I am writing my personal views as an RPCV here, rather than in an official capacity. (My views here do not reflect any official Peace Corps policies or perspectives.)

I attended Senator Coleman's speaking engagement at the Peace Corps and am interested to see what RPCVs write on this topic of accountability. As an RPCV and former overseas staff person, I appreciate ideas generated by those of us who have been there, done that!

I attended Senator Coleman's speaking engagement at the Peace Corps. He was not saying that there is no accountability at the Peace Corps, rather, with appropriated funds comes responsibility to demonstrate positive outcomes - as is the case for all federal agencies, but perhaps moreso for the PC because many people still have no idea that the PC exists, let alone what positive impact the program has!

There are activities in place for collecting performance data for Peace Corps accountability - accountability to the Volunteer as well as Congress and the American taxpayers.

PPA collects volunteer feedback via a worldwide survey. It covers a range of topics from training, to personal safety, to overall satisfaction, and includes a place for open-ended suggestions to improve the Peace Corps. This information is shared with headquarters and overseas staff with the intent of communicating the volunteer perspective/experience, and ultimately to improve the program.

There are other ways that the Peace Corps is evaluated, beyond Inspector General's audits, such as the collection of programming and training data, feedback at regional conferences, and there is even a new initiative currently under way for the sole purpose of coming up with quality indicators.

Although there is generally never enough program evaluation (and response to the feedback)in public programs, I have observed that the Peace Corps IS engaged in activities which provide information on the effectiveness and efficiency of it's operations.

I cannot speak to the kind of oveseas evaluations proposed by Paul Sack, and what transpired there, but I think the Peace Corps will continue to demonstrate positive outcomes and relevance in this turbulent world environment...and so much of the positive outcome stems from "third goal" activities that we all can engage in as RPCVs. Meanwhile the more dialogue among RPCVs, and ideas from RPCVs, the better!

By J.G. Hammoud on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 1:22 pm: Edit Post

As a RPCV from the early 70's I concur with the importance of evaluation - not just because the government should know whether its funds are being well spent, but if the volunteer gives two years of his/her life -they also need to know - was it worth it?

Accountability however, requires knowing first what the expectations, desires and acceptable costs of the program are. Accountability is not a back-end effort, but requires significant work up front. John Carver the governance guru discusses in his theories that organizations need to know their "ends" -exactly what difference is desired to be made, for whom is that difference to be made and at what cost. Too often we measure after the fact - "we only taught 100 people to fish and that cost us five million dollars!" (Is that too much? Too little? Is that good we taught them to fish?) It is never fair to judge against unknown criteria - thus those giving the funds need to clearly define what it is they are giving the money for. . .what is it they want and how much they thing is a good "buy"...There is certainly a wealth of knowledge about what change is needed, what it has cost in the past, who needs the help. Officials need to use these resources and fulfill the critical leadership role of defining clearly the outcomes they want for the allocation of the dollars. Funds must also be set aside for evaluation purposes. Evaluation costs money if it is to be done right. Sometimes it is difficult but lets evaluate the RIGHT thing not the things that are just EASY. Certainly a poor evaluation of the right thing is better than a great evaluation of the wrong thing. Evaluation needs to focus on "what difference" and not the HOW - If we want a village to be economically self sufficient and the program goal is to build three wells and we build three wells and they work but the village isn't self sufficient then we are focusing only on the DOING and not the RESULTS. (Carver)Yes - Let's DO evaluate the difference we are making but first, our leadership needs to decide up front - what difference do they WANT to make - and what are they willing to pay for that difference?

By Ken Rustad on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 6:21 pm: Edit Post

At the other end of evaluations, is the believe by many RPCVs that they got more than they received. I don't know how you could put numbers on that. Many went on to compound returns by what they do or make afterwards. Many RPCVs subjected Third World peoples to greenhorn mistakes. We learned a lot at their expense. They haven't billed Congress. Can we excuse Senator Coleman for being one sided? Afterall, he hasn't been there or done that.

By Mark Treuenfels on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 9:41 pm: Edit Post

I don't know exactly how I should view an accounting of our effectiveness. When I entered the Peace Corps Jamaica, I went to work with a group of men casting metal in the Kingston dump. They were very poor. When I left, they were still poor. So,??? I guess I didn't change any basic things, yet we had accomplished a lot. They had welding equipment, a new foundry with a slab floor, new methods and products, a few new markets. And I left them happier than I found them. They've got a better chance now. What happens from here I don't know. Perhaps follow-ups of Peace Corps projects after some years may shed some light. (Did they really learn to fish?)

By ralph blessing on Tuesday, September 09, 2003 - 9:37 am: Edit Post

Since 1988 I have worked with the Fulbright Scholar Program, which sends US students and scholars overseas to teach and/or conduct research while also bringing students and scholars from abroad to the US. For the past 5-6 years, Congress has held us accountable for documenting the outcomes of the grants we award. Much like Peace Corps, those outcomes are often intangible and difficult to measure, particularly in light of the fact that our primary congressional mandate is to improve mutual understanding. How does one quantify that? Nonetheless, we've been able to put together adequate reports to satisfy folks on the Hill by approaching grantee activities from a variety of angles. I suspect that similar approaches could be used by PC. If Sen. Coleman's call for accountability becomes law, PC officials should get together with counterparts at the Dept. of State's Office of Academic Exchanges to discuss what has worked for Fulbright.

By Paul Sack on Tuesday, September 09, 2003 - 12:36 pm: Edit Post

Evaluation does not require quantification. It should be obvious that much of what Peace Corps Volunteers do cannot be quantified. But an intelligent evaluator can write about what they seem to be accomplishing in terms of all three purposes of the Peace Corps.

By Grant Parker on Tuesday, September 09, 2003 - 1:36 pm: Edit Post

In evaluation, we need to look at the users' evaluatioon of our efforts- the host country, its institutions and its people. Their perceptions and experiences should be at least as important as ours. Ideally, we are there to serve them.

We also need to take a look at the criteria we have used to terminate Peace Corps presence. We seem to jump more quickly out of security concerns than do non-government agencies.

By Christopher J. Roesel (66.110.212.66) on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 8:44 am: Edit Post

I made a mistake while working for Peace Corps in October 2004: I suggested that the organization should effectively plan, learn from, and evaluate all Volunteer programs (not just some). Peace Corps could halve PCV early termination by employing extant planning, feedback, and evaluation methods. I noted that only 23% of program planning has been found to be complete by Peace Corps minimalist standards.

What was the mistake? I was fired as soon as I pointed out the need.


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