January

12
2024

9:00 am EST - 5:00 pm EST

Past Event

A proposal for a global costing taskforce on education and ECD: Workshop summary

Friday, January 12, 2024

9:00 am - 5:00 pm EST


On January 12, 2024, in London, U.K., the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution hosted an initial workshop with a small group of funders and researchers to discuss the current state of costing in education, including ongoing challenges in the field, as well as to identify potential opportunities for collective action centered around a Global Costing Taskforce for education and early childhood development (ECD). There were 19 participants representing 18 organizations. The meeting was chaired by Emily Gustafsson-Wright from the Brookings Institution, facilitated by Barbara Hanisch-Cerda from the International Education Funders Group, and supported by the BHP Foundation. This report presents a summary of the key themes discussed in the workshop.

I.       Why was the workshop convened?

CUE has been working in costing in education for almost a decade. Through its research, the team has identified several salient issues that result in a persistent lack of quality cost data in education and ECD.

Problem Statement 1: Governments, funders, and implementers often do not have adequate cost data to use in financial planning, budgeting, and priority setting. This can lead to insufficient, inequitable, and suboptimal allocation and spending of resources for any program, but the problem may be more acute for education and early childhood development programming.

Problem Statement 2: Costing has gained momentum in the global education and ECD sectors with several actors contributing important tools and resources. However:

  • There are untapped synergies between existing efforts.
  • There is a risk of duplication of efforts.
  • Institutions haven’t committed to making costing a priority.
  • We lack a shared lexicon.
  • We do not have a central repository of resources and tools.
  • Capacity remains low.
  • The Global south voice is mainly absent.

The objectives of the workshop, therefore, were to initiate a discussion amongst researchers and funders in pursuit of a collaborative vision, shared methodology, and reduced duplication of efforts. The workshop provided an opportunity to explore collective action through the formation of a Global Costing Taskforce to address the above issues with the ultimate goal of (1) increasing demand for, (2) strengthening capacity to collect and use, and (3) growing the amount and use of high-quality cost data in education and early childhood development.

It was acknowledged that many relevant actors were absent from the room given the in person nature of the meeting and location. It was agreed that this initial conversation should be followed up by further in person and virtual convenings to ensure the contribution and input of a broad spectrum of voices across institutions and geographies.

II.     When and why is costing important, and for whom?

It was noted that stakeholders, including implementers, policymakers, funders, and researchers, need high-quality cost data in education for a number of purposes including:

  • Advocacy for investment
  • Priority setting
  • Budgeting and planning
  • Managing program activities
  • Accountability of spending

Through discussion on the current reality of costing in education, participants illustrated broadly what the ideal global education landscape inclusive of quality cost data would look like:

  • Costs would be considered when policymakers are making decisions based on what works.
  • Resource allocation and programming would be considered in tandem.
  • Budget planning would consider how much is needed to solve a problem, instead of relying on the division of $XX allocated dollars to reach Y number of children.
  • Costing would be understood to mean analysis of cost and results, not simply cost minimization.
  • Partners would view enhancing comparability and availability of cost estimates across implementing partners as beneficial to the sector and not risky.
  • There would be serious consideration of the required costs of scaling promising initiatives already from the pilot stage.
  • Cost information would be routinely included in impact evaluations.

Although participants were from the research and funding sides of global education, they noted that costing is critical for government actors at all levels, as much of education spending is done at a subnational level. Several points were made elucidating what an ideal costing landscape in government would look like:

  • Improved incentives and internalized motivations for government to engage in costing work.
  • Significant capacity for costing at the local level.
  • Cost data and tools would be aligned with ministries’ budgeting cycles, processes, and programming
  • High-quality and accurate data would form the basis for education funding from top to bottom.
  • A shared lexicon would bridge the government’s focus on public finance and the education ministries’ focus on programming costs.
  • Accurate representation and solid understanding of performance for money, with funds reallocated from low to high performing education programs, staying within the education budget.
  • Cost analysis would not devolve into strict cost cutting measures.

The Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel’s (GEEAP) 2023 Cost-Effective Approaches to Improve Global Learning report, focusing on ‘smart buys’, was highlighted as an example of an opportunity to link learning outcomes and costs to help governments make better decisions. While the report is a conversation starter, the more high-quality cost data that is generated, the better the recommendations will become.

Key takeaways
Sensitivity around the costing message and a clear understanding of the audience is critical to increase traction.
Identifying and using champions or influencers for costing may help move the dial towards the ideal.
Big donors are a critical aspect of the landscape, as they set an example and requirements that many others pick up on.
Marrying the programmatic costing language of education and the public finance language of governments may provide a starting point.
Getting out of a scarcity mindset around costing will help refocus on the quality and comparability we need.

III.    What barriers to costing exist, and what can be done?

In this session of the workshop, Christine Beggs of Alternatives in Development shared findings from ongoing consultation work. Her research found that getting the quantity of, quality of, and relevance of cost data right could lead to increased use of cost data informing program design in education. Each of these aspects is delineated below.

Key barriers to quantity of cost data
Stakeholder Burdens of costing Benefits of costing
Currently quite high Currently quite low and underrealized
Funder Unfamiliar with technical and operational aspects of having partners collect cost data When they have cost evidence, struggle to connect the evidence with decisionmaking
Implementing partner Accounting and monitoring systems are unaligned with cost reporting taxonomies/guidance View cost data as a compliance or reporting requirement and do not use it for learning and adaptation
Researcher Must navigate disparate guidance and gather data that is difficult and tedious to collect and validate No incentives to include cost analysis due to current standards for journals and impact evaluations

Workshop participants also noted several additional barriers that they have experienced in the field:

  • For those less familiar with costing, it is often confused with financial reporting.
  • For those involved in costing, they must understand what cost analysis is and what it does, so they are incentivized to capture the correct data.
  • Peer reviewed journals in the education sector often do not value cost data, creating a disincentive to publishing it.
  • While not involved in the process of costing in education, civil society is affected by the resulting decisions, and may have a very different emphasis than what comes out of it.

Given that there are overlapping shared barriers as well as barriers more specific to one group of stakeholders, the workshop participants noted that it may be beneficial to prioritize tackling shared barriers. This collaborative approach also emphasizes that the holders of specific barriers may not necessarily be the ones who can solve the issue. Since there are several cost initiatives currently underway, a Global Costing Taskforce should ensure that those initiatives are part of the collective effort which will serve to both elevate those initiatives while adding value beyond the individual efforts by improving coordination, reducing duplication of efforts, and addressing remaining issues in the sector.

Key takeaways
There will likely be more and more cost data emerging soon given the multiple cost initiatives already underway. Both the methodologies for collection and the transparency around cost data collection could be prove a good example for governments to conduct more and better costing.
Funders who are using cost data currently need to regularly update and improve their data to be more relevant, and building upon this, bring governments into the fold to get involved.
Aggregate cost data should be made available for the greater public good to identify patterns in cost drivers, cost per unit and total costs for programs with full information on frequency, dosage, beneficiary type, context, geographic area etc.
On-ramps identified where tying costing to a specific focus in the sector where it could benefit from existing enthusiasm, essentially ‘selling itself’: ed-tech, youth employment, and early childhood development (ECD).
There is a clear need for positive stories of costing to dispel the common conceptions many hold of costing being the onerous work of economic experts, example cases must be highlighted.

What does the current landscape look like? What already exists?

Brookings presented information on the current landscape of costing within both the education and ECD sectors, as well as some major costing guidance and tools from other sectors. (More information about these tools can be found in the Appendix of this report.)

Guidance documents and reference cases

Micro-costing tools and approaches

Macro-simulation tools

Following the presentation, three resources were discussed in greater depth: the Brookings Childhood Cost Calculator (C3), presented by Emily Gustafsson-Wright, the USAID costing approach, presented by Caitlin Tulloch, and the UNICEF ECE Accelerator Cost Simulation Model, presented by Divya Lata.

Brookings Childhood Cost Calculator (C3)

  • Objective is to provide an online and free, user-friendly format (survey-based tool) with accompanying user-guide to calculate costs (retrospectively, prospectively or concurrently) for child and youth focused interventions including integrated programs.
  • Broad use across a wide range of sectors including education (early childhood to tertiary), health, nutrition, water and sanitation, social protection, and governance.
  • For use by policymakers, funders, implementers, researchers.
  • Built in functionalities such as currency conversion and amortization.
  • Automatic data visualizations of cost categories, resource types, recurrent vs. investment and donated vs. paid for items.
  • Data stored on a secured server.
  • Opt-in to contribute aggregate cost data to accompanying public database: the Cost Data Explorer.

USAID approach

  • Objectives of USAID/Education cost measurement initiative are to improve sustainability and value-for-money of USAID/Education interventions.
  • Cost refers to: expenditures + contributions + participants’ inputs.
  • Cost data are collected:
    • In real time, as the activity is being implemented
    • Using standard cost categories
    • Using templates and directions from the Cost Reporting Guidance
  • Resources and support for cost measurement at activity and organizational levels are available to all implementing partners.
  • Cost analysis guidance sets up parameters for which cost analysis questions can be answered, using what methods; establishes processes for cost data analysis, to ensure comparability across studies; provides directions for reporting on results and includes templates, checklists, and other helpful resources.

ECE Accelerator cost simulation model

  • Objective is to estimate the resources required for achieving SDG 4.2 targets between 2021-2030 for children ages 3-5 years; applicable to national and sub-national levels.
  • Shows yearly projections over the years for enrolment and resources.
  • Highlights contributions of various education partners and allows for including various education strategies.
  • Covers special needs’ education.
  • Covers major infrastructural needs of the systems.
  • Simulation inputs sheet (population, enrolment, infrastructure, human resources, etc.).
  • Semantics sheet allows for renaming various items and categories.
  • Policy decisions to be included in line with the discussions and agreement between TWG and policymakers.
  • Outputs: Projections for enrolment, NER, HR, infrastructure, and financial resources required in the upcoming years.

Outcomes: Scenarios for better planning and financing of ECE service delivery through evidence-based decisionmaking.

 

Key takeaways
Part of the challenge in this space is that many stakeholders are unaware of existing tools.
Guidance is needed to choose the fit-for-purpose tool based on such criteria as purpose of costing exercise, sector, capacity, language etc.
A shared lexicon could be very helpful to the sector; ‘costing’ itself can prove problematic as costing is a term that covers three separate things: retrospective costing (looking at cost efficiency and cost effectiveness), prospective costing (simulations), and planning and budget costing (modeling).
Some other areas where harmonization may be useful and possible included conceptual framing, parameters (and documentation thereof), sequencing of tool usage, and coherence between the various tools.
Decisionmakers on tool usage, such as funders, must be more assertive in asking whether a tool already exists which can meet their present need rather than supporting the design of new bespoke tools.
Being able to link to the government budget process is essential.

IV.   How do we move forward in a cohesive way?

Participants determined that a Global Costing Taskforce could be a benefit to the sector. Some of the main points the groups raised included:

  • Coordination of effort, harmonization, reduced duplication of resources, data sharing, prioritization of barriers to success, and development of a shared learning agenda are paramount goals.
  • Critical to build trust among diverse actors with different incentives (funders, government, researchers, implementers).
    • Education ministries will be key stakeholders
  • Identifying and acting on low hanging fruit may help the taskforce get off the ground quickly and successfully.
  • Technical work being done now is very good, but the narrative needs to improve.
  • Global Costing Taskforce should be led by an organization that can hold neutral convenings and translate the complex to more practical.
    • A funder led taskforce risks putting pressure on donors to acquiesce for funding. They need to support, but not lead, the movement
    • The organization requires a certain level of prestige/attention to bring the right decisionmakers and stakeholders to the table.
    • Subgroups could allow everyone to have a seat at the table as well as support engagement.
  • Agreement that the Center for Universal Education at Brookings has deep expertise in convening similar types of Task Forces (e.g. the Learning Metrics Task Force) and is well-networked in the global education sector at multiple levels of engagement.
  • Equity is essential – the taskforce must have more diverse/representative stakeholders and include the Global South.
  • It may be beneficial to pick a few countries to focus in on closely, working with ed-labs to increase sustainability

One final point, which became a rallying cry for the workshop was how do we make costing harder to ignore?

V.     What action items do you envision for the Global Costing Taskforce to have tackled in the first six months? One year? Three years?

The final session of the workshop centered around a vision for 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years of the Taskforce. These suggestions were primarily high level given that the participants agreed that the Taskforce itself should collectively determine the structure, format, and activities.

Six months

Participants will conduct further analysis of the current education and early childhood development costing landscape

  • Establish high-level steering committee for the taskforce
  • Communicate about the taskforce
  • Build a coalition of stakeholders representing a broad range of entities and geographies
  • Jointly determine goals of taskforce
  • Set stage for taskforce setup/subcommittees
  • Encourage, promote, and strengthen costing discussions in existing groups/networks

One year

  • Continue building out the taskforce subcommittees
  • Further identify and prioritize problems and work toward solutions by subcommittee
  • Facilitate harmonization in the sector through briefing documents and convenings
  • Engage in strategic communications

Three years

The Taskforce is a sustained, solid movement with a strong network of costing champions including within government.

  • Global south voice at the center of the movement
  • Regular convening around cost data and costing taking place
  • Harmonization clear and costing on the rise
  • Clear improvement of cost data collection and use in impact evaluation in the sector
  • Improved linkages between costing and financing for implementers and governments

Conclusion

An increase in the collection, analysis and use of relevant cost data holds significant opportunities for all stakeholders involved in education and early childhood development. Owing to multiple barriers that impact the quantity, quality, and relevance of costing studies this promise is substantially underrealized within the sector. While many tools, guidelines, guidance documents, and simulators already exist, there is little harmonization across the sector leading to confusion and a loss of efficiency and comparability.

Considering the current state of play, a Global Costing Taskforce led by an organization with a large neutral convening power and ability to provide technical and complex information in a straightforward manner could provide considerable benefit to the entire sector. This taskforce would aim to bring together representatives of all stakeholders, ensuring equity and a strong Global South voice, to both understand and improve the use of cost data in education.

For more information, please reach out to [email protected]

 

Acknowledgements

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and policy solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public. The conclusions and recommendations of any Brookings publication are solely those of its author(s), and do not reflect the views or policies of the Institution, its management, its other scholars, or the funders acknowledged below.

The BHP Foundation is a donor to the Brookings Institution. Brookings recognizes that the value it provides is in the absolute commitment to quality, independence, and impact. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions in this report are not influenced by any donation.