If you took all the bricks in the Pentagon and laid them end to end, they would reach around the earth four and a half times.--Pentagon tour guide, 7 December 2006
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE (DOD) executes humanitarian activities primarily through the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid (OHDACA) program. The OHDACA program includes three sub-activities: the Humanitarian Assistance (HA) program, the Humanitarian Mine Action program, and Foreign Disaster Relief and Emergency Response. Activities funded by the OHDACA appropriation are intended to mitigate the effects of natural and man-made disasters, to shape the environment in which DOD operates by providing access to critical areas and by influencing civilian populations, and to improve the capacity of vulnerable nations to better prepare for disasters. The ultimate beneficiary of OHDACA activities is the civilian population, and the activities should always have an appropriate and positive influence. For instance, renovating a school should positively impact primary education, and renovating a clinic should positively impact the civilian health sector.
Civilian U.S. Government agencies evaluate the effectiveness of their programs through monitoring and evaluation (M&E), but equivalent analyses of DOD humanitarian assistance programs have been either ad hoc or entirely lacking. (1) "Monitoring" is the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, and use of data during the course of a project. (2) "Evaluation" is the periodic review of program activity, outcome, and impact, with an emphasis on lessons learned. (3) This article presents the case that DOD should institute both monitoring and evaluation of HA activities in order to assess their effectiveness.
The "How" and "Why" of Measuring HA
Every organization currently involved in humanitarian assistance faces the challenge of how to measure the impact of its work. Despite nearly 40 years of experience in M&E, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) still struggles to quantify, and demonstrate to decision-makers, the impact that its programs have. While DOD has extensive experience with battle damage assessment, its M&E methods for humanitarian assistance are in their infancy. The Pentagon has instituted "measures of effectiveness" (MOE) for virtually every DOD program but HA. The Defense Department need not develop monitoring and evaluation methods in a vacuum, however. USAID's several decades of experience is a great start point. Other agencies' experiences and lessons learned can likewise serve as a base for development of M&E techniques.
Why should DOD measure the impact of HA programs? There are several important reasons. First, doing so can allow planners to make mid-course corrections on current projects, and it can provide them with information to improve the quality of future activities. By creating a feedback loop of lessons learned, the M&E process in HA would improve efficiency and ensure that projects contribute to operational objectives. Planners could then emphasize activities that are more cost-effective, which is especially important because every year the number of projects that combatant commands apply for exceeds the funds available. Second, collecting and sharing data would increase planners' ability to deconflict activities with other agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Third, data analysis helps to showcase quantifiable results, thereby minimizing the chances of negative press surrounding HA activities. (4)
But most importantly, DOD should measure HA programs because transparency is a core strength of our democracy. Groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and even Al-Qaeda engage in prima facie humanitarian and social service activities, but ultimately their true motivations become apparent: the manipulation of people toward violent ends. In contrast, DOD's humanitarian programs should have a demonstrably quantifiable humanitarian impact. …