Tanja Winther: Impact evaluation of rural electrification programmes: what parts of the story may be missed?
In Journal of Development Effectiveness
Impact evaluations of electricity interventions have the methodological advantage that central parts of the intended outcomes are directly observable. However, in terms of measuring the social impact of interventions, electricity poses a particularly challenging field for evaluation due to the multifaceted and indirect ways electricity conditions various services in daily life. Another problem with regard to attribution is that electricity systems including their end use among private consumers take a long time to evolve.
The paper draws on the author’s ethnographic work on the impact of electricity in various places and examines the methodology used in a selected evaluation of electricity’s impact in Mozambique. The intervention was funded by Norway and evaluated by Norplan AS on behalf of Norad. The analysis shows that the task at hand, to evaluate the impact on people’s living conditions, was narrowed down and mainly implied focusing on the number of connections and examining people’s consumables and a segment of their finances. Some of the sources for this reduction are traced to the Terms of Reference, which limited the scope of the study, for example, by avoiding asking the evaluator to assess the effects of electrification on various groups.
Methodological choices, such as using the household as a unit of analysis, implied that potentially important data on the significance of the wider social networks and gender aspects were disregarded in the analysis. The paper concludes that the use of quantitative methods in impact evaluations of electrification would bring more valuable knowledge if they were preceded by a thorough, qualitative examination of the sociocultural and material context and gave more attention to the process of electrification. The author also discusses some ethical considerations connected to conducting large-scale surveys.