VfM is a concept that has long been used in the public sector to ensure that public funds are spent efficiently and effectively. However, the way VfM is currently understood and applied is often based on Western-centric ideas and values, and can perpetuate colonialism and systemic inequalities.
At a time when the idea of decolonising aid is gaining momentum – unfortunately a bit late but, as they say, better late than never! – following the excellent report by Peace Direct “Time to decolonise aid”, it is no surprise that many activists and actors in the international development and aid sector are starting to look back at their work and identify ways to tackle structural racism and other practices which can be described as outdated, if not completely inappropriate.
This has also happened to us in Learning and Change, as a consultancy company mostly focussed on supporting organisations and programmes to assess their Value for Money (VfM) and use this as a process to improve their impact and minimise the waste of resources. We started to reflect on what it means to decolonise VfM and in this blog we wanted to share some of our preliminary thinking.
What is VfM?
VfM is multidimensional concept used to assess whether it has been worthwhile investing some specific resources in a given programme or intervention. This means that at the core of the analysis of VfM lies an exploration of the concept of value:
- Have we made a difference by investing in this programme?
- For whom has it been valuable?
- How could we have achieved even more results?
Underpinned in the VfM analysis is the idea that public resources should be used in the most efficient and effective way possible, to deliver the best outcomes for the communities we intend to serve.
The traditional approach to VfM is often based on quantitative measures such as cost-benefit analysis, and assumes that the value of a project or programme can be measured solely in economic terms. This approach can be problematic, as it can lead to a focus on short-term financial savings rather than long-term benefits, and can overlook the social, political and empowerment transformations achieved by a particular intervention.
Why do we need to decolonise VfM?
The current approach to VfM is often based on Western-centric ideas and values, and can perpetuate colonialism and systemic inequalities as well as counterproductive power dynamics. This is because the VfM debate often fails to consider the diverse needs and experiences of different communities, and can lead to decisions that are based on a narrow set of economic indicators, rather than on what is truly important and valuable to people.
For example, the traditional approach to VfM may consider a project that generates high economic returns as being of greater value than a project that has achieved significant transformations (for instance in the position of certain minority groups within a community or in the procedures and legislation around some social practices that violate women’s rights), but may not have the same level of economic return. This approach can lead to decisions that prioritise economic achievements over social justice, systemic changes and sustainability, and can perpetuate existing inequalities and power imbalances.
How can we decolonise VfM?
Decolonising VfM requires a fundamental shift in thinking and in the way we approach VfM, to ensure that public resources are used in a way that is equitable, just, and truly meets the needs of those communities or groups who are the most vulnerable. This requires a more holistic approach to analyzing and exploring value, taking into account a broader range of social, political and cultural factors, and enabling the people directly engaged in an intervention to have their voice heard when analysisng VfM.
Some key principles for decolonising VfM include:
- Prioritising community engagement and participation in decision-making processes, to ensure that the needs and experiences of different communities are taken into account.
- Using a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches to evaluate the value of a particular programme or initiatives, that can factor in social, political, and cultural elements, as well as economic aspects.
- Recognising and valuing different forms of knowledge and expertise, including Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and incorporating these into decision-making processes and into the VfM analysis as a whole.
- Challenging the assumption that economic measurements are the primary tool to identify success, and prioritising social transformation and sustainability.
- Taking a long-term perspective, and considering the potential impact of decisions on future generations.
- Moving beyond the immediate results to reflect on the transformational and systemic changes achieved.
Decolonising VfM is a complex and ongoing process, requiring a fundamental shift in thinking and approach. However, by prioritising community engagement and participation, using a more holistic range of approaches, recognising and valuing different forms of knowledge and expertise, challenging the assumption that economic measures are the primary tool to identify success, and taking a long-term perspective, we can make VfM a useful process that can improve the way we work, the results we achieve and limit the waste of resources.
Learn more about our work on VfM here.