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Why we must measure dignity in development

20 February 2022

IDinsight’s new Dignity initiative will provide partners with tools to measure, evaluate, and improve how they uphold people’s dignity.

Faith Kasina leads a Saba Saba day protest in Nairobi. By Calvin Ochieng.

February 21, 2022 – IDinsight announces today its new Dignity initiative to equip leaders in government, NGOs, philanthropies, and social enterprises with the tools they need to ensure their programs respect the people they serve. This initiative stems from Tom Wein’s work with the Dignity Project over the last five years, in which he conducted research on how to better affirm the dignity of people from all around the world, what that means for their lives, and the practical changes leaders can make to build cultures of evidence-based respectfulness.

IDinsights’s Dignity initiative has three main components. The first is helping the most influential actors in global development put systems in place to keep their promises to respect those they serve. The second is expanding the research agenda to keep demonstrating what works to uphold dignity and why it matters. The third component is to ensure IDinsight is an exemplary and accountable home for progressing a dignity agenda by connecting with allies and building internal processes.

Research has shown that respect for dignity is something citizens across South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa value and are frequently denied. Innovation, learning, and improvement are needed for the social sector to fully respect their dignity. Evidence suggests that respectful interactions produce greater wellbeing and self-efficacy, improved health, better functioning democratic spheres, greater cooperation, and increased service uptake and satisfaction. 

Many organizations and governments are taking note. In November 2021 Tom Wein testified about dignity to the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee’s inquiry on the philosophy of aid, a precursor to the new FCDO aid strategy. In related work, an IDinsight project to incorporate program participants’ preferences into funding decisions (based on a survey of people living below the poverty line in Ghana and Kenya) helped GiveWell to refine the cost-effectiveness analysis they use to guide their recommendations and grantmaking. GiveWell directed over $500 million in donations in 2021.

IDinsight will be working to identify partners committed to measuring the respectfulness with which their services or programs are delivered. These include philanthropic foundations, non-profit organizations, government ministries, and social enterprises who will work with IDinsight to identify challenges and opportunities to build a culture of dignity. 

“We know that measurable outcomes are often prioritized, but that what counts doesn’t always get counted,” said Ruth Levine, IDinsight CEO. “That’s why the innovative methods developed by the Dignity Project have so much potential. We will now have the capacity to offer our partners a means of measuring how well they are living up to their values of respect and dignity.”

“Seeing the full and complex humanity of the people development seeks to serve – it should be basic, but we know we don’t always manage it,” said Tom Wein. “IDinsight’s Dignity initiative will work to provide evidence-based advice and practical tools to help keep our sector’s promises. I’m really proud to be building on all that IDinsight has always done to make its values manifest in its work.”

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