Here I will attempt to my own layman's version for understanding that good intentions are indeed not enough. As luck would have it, I will choose sports analogies to do just that, a field fraught with dangerous cliché if there ever was one. (Here aremy take on some of the most heated debates in aid).
In professional basketball, the whole point of the competition is to play and win the last game of a season. It involves about 30 teams who will spend an incredible amount of money to achieve this goal.
In 2004, The Detroit Pistons surprised most sports analysts when they won the trophy with a team of virtual no-names by soundly defeating arch-favorite LA Lakers who won the previous two seasons and bolstered four Hall of Famers ( O'Neal, Bryant, Malone, Payton). NBA fans were only mildly surprised by the result. They know to expect that there are more factors to consider than just talent and star power. One must take into account the chemistry of the players and their ability to do what they are suppose to do on the court.
In aid, the ultimate goal is to find the most efficient way to improve the lives of people that aid is aimed to serve. You would note right away that this goal is not as clear-cut as the goal in pro basketball (we will come back to that notion later) The star power that celebrities bring when they engage in aid effort is immediately evident: they are able to reach more people, induce sympathy which translates into more funds for the cause they champion and in theory, more help for vulnerable population.
What aid professionals are telling the good intentioned people is: "Remember the Pistons". The ultimate goal is to win the "whole thing": Help people in an efficient manner. There is a chance you will get close to do so by bringing in Karl Malone with Shaq and Bryant but you might also mess-up a proven way to achieve your goal by not carefully considering all the factors involved. What is your strategy? ( i.e who is your Larry Brown, the coach who has unlimited experience and knowledge of the field), who will do the critical, daily behind-the-door work? (ie, who is your Ben Wallace, defense specialist)? ) Who will coordinate on the court on where everyone needs to be? ( Who is your Rasheed W. ?) You get the point: to get there, you don't always need three worldwide stars who will fund raise (or score 25 points each) but you will need specific expertise at specific locations.
The analogy can be carried further that the arrival of Malone and Payton was in the end detrimental to the Lakers because it took away shots ( that the other stars could take) and roster slots for a less visible but better fitted contributors.
However, the reason why the analogy does not totally match is because there cannot be a true clear finish-line in aid. When can one claim that it achieved what one set out to do? Where does one set the bar for acceptable poverty and diseases ? But lord knows we try. That's why aid agencies like to set milestones: eradication of Malaria, the 3 by 5 initiative in AIDS, 50% above poverty line of $2/day by 2015 in Madagascar etc... It becomes even more complex for humanitarian aid. What are the goals here ? Build back to the pre-earthquake level in one year? If higher than pre-earthquake, then how much more?
But aid in general can sometimes also have loftier goals: more democracy, open societies, poverty alleviation and it also has less-generous, ulterior motives (national security, sphere of influence, privileged trade partnerships..)
The equivalent in sports would be targets such as: Go from a .500 season to the playoffs; raise team free-throw % from 65 to 72 and points allowed per position from 1.2 to 0.8. In general, those criteria matter very little to casual fans but we tolerate them and accept that there is a whole field devoted to sports econometrics because there is a palatable goal to link it all together: Win it all at the end.
Again, can't have that in Aid (unless you count Word Peace, of course). So the aid observers will have to be content with their field batting .303 average instead of .287 ( all that with the budget of the Kansas City Royals when compared to other more "power-yielding" fields)
Finally, let me try the sport analogy one last time on another current heated debate in aid. Aid transparency has gained major ground because it makes little sense to donate money to a cause without any feedback. What kind of transparency is the question that Scott Gilmore aims to clarify in his conversation with Aid Watch and others. Gilmore argues that it is transparency of impact that matters not process, summarized by this striking sentence:
"In this case, I really don’t care if World Vision blew 90% of their budget on strippers and Grey Goose vodka.What I want to know is what did they deliver? "This debate can be tied to the other debate about overhead for non-profit organisation.
In sports, fans care about how the budget is allocated: players salaries, luxury tax etc.. but at the end of the day, LA Lakers fans would not have cared one bit that O' Neal made 30 millions more than Karl Malone in 2004 had they had won the whole thing. They want to know why they did not win and only then wold they wonder about the discrepancies in salaries. Was the fact that salaries were so unbalanced a factor? Probably but it is an issue only because 1) they did not come through 2) The chemistry may have been disrupted.
The chemistry factor needs to be assessed first before we worry about whether K. Malone was underpaid.
La Lakers fans care only about championships. Similarly aid recipients will only care about how, in the short and long run, this aid project will affect their lives.
The difference here is that aid recipients are usually much better judge that NBA fans at knowing what works and what does not, that and the fact that millions of LA fans all have some access to Lakers game and can move on to the Dodgers minutes later while aid recipients fight for the limited global attention while keep their dignity in the process.