Does foreign aid work? Are aid funds spent as intended? These have been recurring questions for four decades, and they continue to spark heated debates. Yet how may we know whether aid works? What tools may help us see clearly the effects of aid?
This PhD thesis shows how these questions were first introduced into Norwegian aid around 1980, and how evaluation staff contributed to a major transformation of aid by developing new tools for planning, monitoring, and evaluation. Yet paradoxically, this thesis argues, when these tools were combined with methods of auditable accounting from 1990, they reinforced the same situation that evaluation staff had so strongly criticized one decade earlier.
Through archival research and close reading of documents, this thesis analyzes aid evaluation as a specific form of knowledge production. Combining historical methods with theoretical and methodological approaches from Science and Technology Studies, the thesis develops the concept of optics of evaluation as a means to analyze the practical methods, tools, technologies, routines, and systems that the aid administration devised in their efforts to better see the effects of aid.