When I was playing for my high school tennis team, I once walked off the court after losing a match and began giving excuses to my coach about why I had lost. He cut my arguments short by pointing to an L on his scorecard. “See this,” he said. “It’s an L. You lost. That’s all I care about.”
The latest fad in evaluating development projects is Results Based Management (RBM). After Theories of Change, RBM is supposed to give the best indicators of the impact of a project in terms of concrete results. While not exactly W or L - Europeans, of course, also use D for Draw in soccer matches, something anathema to Americans - RBM tries to go beyond showing mere output to demonstrate a cause and effect behind what was done and what has changed. In determining responsibility in legal terms, RBM focuses on the bottom line, faute de résultat, not faute de moyens, a result error, not an effort error - something anathema to most doctors.
These thoughts are particularly relevant to the recent efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. At the same time, he is working on reducing global nuclear arms, limiting Iran’s nuclear program, stopping the carnage in Syria, avoiding a violent clash with Russia over Ukraine and settling the Israel-Palestine crisis. And these are only the crises that are on the front pages.
In a memorable editorial in The New York Times of January 30, 2013, Gail Collins noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has “traveled 956, 733 miles to 112 different countries in order to conduct 1,700 meetings with world leaders. While consuming 570 airplane meals.” In a piece I posted debunking the column, I wrote, “What I would have expected from Gail Collins, and what I hope will one day appear in The New York Times, is a sensible evaluation of what Hillary Clinton actually did as Secretary of State, an impact analysis.” (NYTimes Examiner February 1, 2013)
At this point, would it be too much to ask the same of John Kerry? While one can only admire his perseverance and stamina, the collapse of the Middle East peace process, the continuing tragedy in Syria, the catastrophic resetting of the button with Russia all indicate that there has been little impact for all his efforts. No faute de moyens, but certainly faute de resultat.
Fully realizing that diplomacy is not tennis, I would still like to see a W on some scorecard if Kerry is to avoid the Collins/Clinton syndrome.