Before making a decision to invest in LED, surely we need information proving that it works. From the perspective of a Mayor, Governor or indeed any institution investing financial resources into LED, one would need to know that:
- LED has produced positive impacts / outcomes in similar contexts;
- LED is a cost effective approach compared to other approaches that could have been used instead.
There are an abundance of evaluations of individual LED projects or initiatives in certain African localities. For example, evaluations of projects supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs), improving human skill levels or improving infrastructure. These do often show the successful impacts of such projects on job creation, improvements in income, attracting inward investment, etc. They also sometimes contain evidence of cost effectiveness compared to other local initiatives undertaken.
The scarcity relates more to providing evidence on the success of LED strategies as a whole. If we take the World Bank's definition of LED, (see LED primer)
as a process by which public, business and non-governmental sector partners work collectively to create better conditions for economic growth and employment generation, then we need impact information showing that:
- The LED strategies and interventions implemented, through this partnership of stakeholders, have resulted in increased economic growth and employment creation
- That the LED strategies and interventions implemented were a cost effective way of achieving these economic results compared with other approaches that could have been taken.
Having searched high and low for this sort of evaluation information, I realised how scarce it was, especially in the African context. Yet when you have to allocate scarce funding to competing priorities, you need to be sure that what you are funding achieves results and is a cost effective way to do it. More significantly of course, local people will also increasingly demand to know the results of the money spent in their area.
Furthermore, other development programmes increasingly provide this sort of information e.g. livelihoods programmes showing impact on nutrition levels or children not being taken out of school or health programmes showing impact on health outcomes and cost effectiveness of the service delivery. While evaluating LED strategies is more complex due to their multi faceted nature, we are increasingly required to provide this information.
On the other hand, even at the global level, it is not proven that LED strategies more often than not produce positive impacts in a cost effective manner. There is a substantial body of research on the economic effects of regional policy (both positive and negative) throughout the world. For example, see the extensive literature on regional policy in the UK, USA, EU, Spain, the Italian South, Brazil, South Africa and others. One of the recent positive examples is research on European Union regional policy, showing that the increase in economic growth in the poorest European regions can be mostly attributed to regional policy investments (Bussilo et al 2010, paper can be found here). But more of this sort of impact information needs to be shared and collected somehow to prove the impact of LED.
I am sure there is a wealth of evaluation information out there on the impact of LED processes and strategies in Africa, particularly from South Africa, which has had the longest history of implementing LED initiatives. The problem is that it is often not in the public domain or remains fragmented and not in one place.
The LEDNA network provides us with an invaluable opportunity to share and collect information on the impact of LED in African countries. If you have LED impact information (at an LED strategy rather than just individual project level) it would be great to hear from you! If I get enough responses, I commit to compiling them into a short briefing note on the impact of LED in Africa.
I think this would greatly help when any of us is making decisions on whether to invest in LED or are being asked about how we know that LED works!
Emma Wadie Hobson