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The Dignity Report 2023

Honing in on impact


The Dignity Report 2023 - 8 MB

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Our theory of change and impact so far

IDinsight’s north star is impact. Our organizational strategy proposes four mutually reinforcing impact channels.

The Dignity Initiative aims mostly to achieve impact by advancing ideas, though some impact comes through our efforts in improving lives and increasing capability. We believe that we are presently in a supportive political context to advance dignity, and that our work with sympathetic actors across global development will lead to people around the world having many more interactions with institutions that are respectful of their dignity. We think this will in turn create an implicit pressure on international development’s gatekeepers to change the status quo.

We are committed to measuring our progress, with the support of IDinsight’s internal Impact Improvement Team.

In 2022 we advanced our validated measures of respect for dignity, articulated a research agenda for dignity, and offered protocols for post-study feedback and building cultures of dignity through audits. Those ideas have been widely taken up, leading to notable partnerships with some of the most exciting actors in development and the opportunity to input into the UK Parliament’s view on UK aid strategy and the Core Humanitarian Standard.

Relative Impact Units: one way to benchmark impact

IDinsight formalizes our estimates of impact in Relative Impact Units. For a full explanation of this method, see our Internal Impact Measurement Methodology.

Our four most successful activities in 2022 together achieved an impact of 1,244 RIUs.
In 2023, we analyzed the possible impact of our five case study partnerships. There are lots and lots of assumptions here, so we should hold all these numbers with considerable caution; we think the process of challenging ourselves to this analysis is at least as valuable a learning experience as the actual results.

We think the impact of the four IDinsight-supported projects amounts to a sum of 1,091 RIUs.


We may loosely think of this impact as equivalent to making a large contribution to saving more than 467 lives, or redirecting $15.5M to better uses.

This year, we set ourselves the challenge of honing in on impact. We are proud to have once achieved the important impact on the world that these numbers suggest. We hope that all work on dignity across our movement will continue to hold itself accountable to this standard of careful measurement in pursuit of change that is more than rhetorical.

The University of Notre Dame’s support to Catholic Relief Services, on which we have played only a minor advisory role, may be extremely impactful, because of CRS’ vast reach – in 2022 their interventions reached 255M people, and they have around 8,000 staff, so very high figures are possible.

We plead for caution in interpreting these numbers. We are dedicated to reflecting on pathways to impact, and find this one very valuable way of doing so which it is useful to share with those interested in the dignity movement – but we do not wish to overclaim about a method which involves large assumptions. In time, as we have stated in the research agenda, it will be very valuable to refine our estimates of impact through causal research on interventions to affirm dignity.

Theory of change

Our actions can improve the quality of ideas, issue characteristics and actor power.1 Since we are presently in an eagerly receptive political context in the global development sector,2 this should then lead to several outputs. We believe that if we get this right, sympathetic development actors3 will then take up tools to consider and monitor dignity, sympathetic development actors will partner with the Dignity Initiative on deeper projects, and allies of dignity will support and spread this process.4

In turn this should yield several positive intermediate outcomes. Implementers will design programs that are more respectful of beneficiaries’ dignity. Development actors’ internal cultures become more respectful of staff dignity. Funders will select grantees that prioritize dignity. And in turn, development gatekeepers should begin to feel pressure to prioritize dignity.

All this will lead to people around the world having many more interactions with institutions that are respectful of their dignity.

This is good in itself – but it also yields other positive individual, programmatic and societal benefits.

Consequences of dignity

A whole range of positive outcomes have been suggested, as downstream consequences of dignity-affirming interactions. The evidence for these varies, and is best thought of as a jigsaw of mid-sized studies, often from US rather than low-income countries, and often from laboratory studies rather than in the real world, so there is further to go. Yet the weight of evidence is that when people have dignity-affirming interactions, positive things follow (Wein & Sobti, 2023).

  1. 1. Jeremy Shiffman’s work suggests that there are four crucial factors for how ideas rise to priority in global development (Smith et al, 2014): political context, ideas, issue characteristics, and actor power.
  2. 2. Though these institutional failures occur in institutions operating bureaucratic processes of all kinds, we are prioritizing the global development sector. This is because the vulnerability to disrespect is higher among the poorest; this is an idea that already has traction in that sector, and this is a sector that has a reputation of openness to new ideas and evidence. The political context in the global development sector particularly favors dignity, in a way that is less true in other fields; and our existing networks and expertise as IDinsight are focused on global development. We hope to learn lessons for later attempts to influence public policy towards dignity in countries at all levels of development, since we believe that in the long term, impact on dignity and bureaucratic disrespect will be best sustained through partnerships with LMIC governments.
  3. 3. We believe there are two major sources of disrespectful interactions in the world: interpersonal prejudice, and institutional failure. We are best equipped to bring change to otherwise well-intentioned institutions who want to correct these failures, rather than to wider society that may not want to change. We might hope that by focusing on those institutions, this may spread cultures of dignity that will eventually lead to more respectful interpersonal interactions, but this is not a formal part of our theory of change.
  4. 4. We argue that the global development sector can be split into three groups according to their attitude to dignity: allies, sympathizers and gatekeepers. There are a small number of allies, who are already working on this issue. We seek to harness and encourage their efforts. There is a much larger number of sympathizers, who are presently wrestling with how development ought to be reformed, and who receive dignity very positively when told about it – but who are not necessarily using dignity as an important frame at present. We seek to reach and persuade them. Finally, there are a number of gatekeepers, who set the rules of the development game and who are invested in the status quo. We eventually seek to pressure them to change