Assessing the Impact of Political Commitment Metrics: Towards an Agenda

Political commitment is now widely recognised as a key factor in advancing hunger and nutrition higher up on policy agendas in high burden countries, and this in turn is expected to reduce the number of people suffering from these blights.

Despite being a slippery concept, efforts to quantitatively measure levels of political commitment are now quickly growing. In the last few years, metrics devised to measure political commitment to reducing hunger and undernutrition include:

Whether the ‘market’ for commitment metrics is getting saturated remains to be seen. The proliferation of instruments of varying rigour and complexity is making it increasingly difficult for all but highly discerning ‘customers’ to distinguish between their relative strengths and demerits.

Five or ten years from now, some of these metrics will have matured, while others would have disappeared into oblivion. Whether or not a particular metric survives will be determined by the terrain of technical and methodological soundness, and increasingly also on their actual uptake and policy impact.

With a growing donor demand for research to demonstrate value for money and policy impact - and the meaning of the latter largely remains to be determined – researchers  will rightly have to start showing the practical relevance of their metrics. This is not l’art pour l’art.

Truth be told, the architects of commitment metrics (including myself) often express high hopes for the real life application of their instruments, cheered on by high levels of enthusiasm for these by donors, civil society groups, and to an extent fellow researchers. Yet we don’t really have much evidence through what kind of processes commitment metrics are taken up and used, to achieve some kind of impact on public policy, or the environment within which public policies come about.

So, what could an agenda for assessing uptake and impact of commitment metrics look like? Here are some quick thoughts on some of the most pertinent questions to be addressed:

  • Are commitment metrics used, by whom, under what conditions, when, for what purposes, and to what effect?
  • We know that evidence does not speak for itself, so through what kind of processes can end-user capacity be built effectively?
  • Do commitment metrics generate additional government commitment that ultimately drives better hunger and nutrition outcomes?
  • And, critically, what constitutes uptake and policy impact?

Commitment metrics could reshape the ideas and attitudes of, and inspire new activities by actors that are directly or indirectly involved in the policy cycle. Thus, metrics may provide the evidence that shores up existing policy debates or helps to (1) reframe the understandings of what constitutes political commitment by key civil society actors, by advocacy collectives, the media and the general public and by political leaders; (2) set new policy agendas; (3) drive new approaches in policy implementation and evaluation and learning, and (4) promote accountability for action on nutrition.  An example of attempting to use commitment measures to promote nutrition accountability is of course the use of some HANCI indicators in the Global Nutrition Report.

At HANCI, we will be actively exploring these 4 questions, and will be reporting on the challenges of doing this in future blogs and reports.