The fear about an insistence on results arises from confusion about what “results” are. A legitimate typical concern is that aid bureaucracies pressed for “results” will resort, more than already is the case, to projects that provide inputs that seem add up to easily measured “wins” (bednets delivered, books distributed, paramedics trained, vehicles or computers purchased, roads built) while neglecting “system” issues and “institution building”. But bednets and books and vehicles and roads are not results in any meaningful sense, and the connection between these inputs and real outcomes (healthier babies, better educated children, higher farmer income) goes through systems and institutions and is often lost....
Let us define results as measured gains in what children have learned by the end of primary school, or measured reductions in infant mortality or deforestation, or measured increases in the hours of electricity available, or annual increases in revenue from taxes paid by rich households in poor countries – or a host of other indicators that ultimately add up to the transformation of societies and the end of their dependence on outside aid. For a country to get results might not require more money but a reconfiguration of local politics, the cleaning up of bureaucratic red tape, local leadership in setting priorities or simply more exposure to the force of local public opinion. Let aid be more closely tied to well-defined results that recipient countries are aiming for; let donors and recipients start measuring and reporting those results to their own citizens; let there be continuous evaluation and learning about the mechanics of how recipient countries and societies get those results (their institutional shifts, their system reforms, their shifting politics and priorities), built on the transparency that Secretary Mitchell is often emphasizing.
I'd also like to note that Birdsall is the founding director of the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit in DC that does a lot of work related to evidence-based aid. I relied fairly heavily on their report on "Closing the Evaluation Gap" on a recent dual degree app. The full report is worth the read.