USAID Education Cost Measurement Toolkit
Cost measurement refers to a process of collecting, processing, analyzing, and reporting on the costs of interventions.
Why Measure Costs?
Information about the cost of developing and implementing interventions is essential for sustaining and scaling up successful interventions and for informing decision-making at USAID throughout the Program Cycle.
Cost data can help improve the value-for-money of development investments. Improved visibility into costs of different intervention components helps USAID Missions and their partners plan, budget, and manage programs to identify the least costly ways of achieving development outcomes.
Measuring costs also supports sustainability. To sustain effective interventions, partner governments need to know the details of their implementation and what resources are required.
Finally, ADS 201 requires cost data analysis in all impact evaluations.
What Is Our Cost Measurement Approach?
Cost measurement refers to a process of collecting, processing, analyzing, and reporting on the costs of interventions. At USAID, the process follows the standard activity cycle beginning with developing cost questions during the activity design, aligning cost capture with activity objectives during the start-up, consistently capturing the data in real time throughout activity implementation, analyzing that data, and providing recommendations based upon findings at the conclusion of the activity.
USAID’s Center for Education cost measurement initiative established systems and processes for capturing and analyzing the costs of USAID-funded education activities. By using a standardized approach, USAID can ensure that data can be used effectively to achieve greater and lasting impact.
How Do We Collect Cost Data?
To ensure data are accurate and comparable, the USAID cost measurement approach emphasizes following a standardized data collection process and collecting data in real time.
USAID’s standardized approach includes:
- Standard cost reporting categories across USAID education portfolio
- Standard reporting templates for expenditures, contributions, and intervention details
Real-time data collection means that:
- Processes for cost data capture are set up during activity startup
- Data are submitted to USAID following award reporting schedule
USAID has produced a Cost Reporting Guidance for USAID-Funded Education Activities document and supplemental Field Guide to support standardized reporting on costs of USAID-funded education activities.
USAID Agreement and Contracting Officers' Representatives (AORs/CORs) at USAID Missions and their implementing partners are responsible for understanding and implementing USAID’s cost reporting approach. USAID’s Center for Education provides support and guidance to USAID operating units and implementing partners and leads portfolio-level cost analyses.
- Cost Reporting Guidance for USAID-Funded Education Activities
- Cost Reporting Guidance for USAID-Funded Education Activities - The Annexes
- Cost Reporting Field Guide
Tools and Templates
To reduce the burden on implementing partners and support a standardized reporting process, USAID provides a number of tools and templates for use in cost reporting.
How Do We Analyze and Use Cost Data?
Cost data can be analyzed using different methods, and findings can be used for a variety of purposes. They can support partner government policy objectives, provide data for future USAID investment decisions, or help inform discussions with sector stakeholders. Implementing partners can use cost data to inform activity designs and budgets.
Under ADS 201, cost analysis is required for all impact evaluations. See the ADS 201 Update on Cost Analysis.
The USAID Center for Education’s cost analysis approach is based on commonly used methods and best practices in development economics, education economics, and related fields. The purpose of all cost analyses is to better understand what resources were used to deliver a program and produce results (outputs and outcomes). Within that broad scope, there are different types of analysis methods that are suited to answering different types of questions. USAID provides extensive guidance on cost analysis to support analysts in using the reported cost data to answer cost analysis questions that directly support the objective of improving sustainability and the value for money of USAID investments in education.
Evaluators and analysts should follow USAID’s Cost Analysis Guidance to select the appropriate method based on the cost analysis questions and available data. Adhering to the standard guidance ensures comparability and transparency of cost analysis results, and lays a strong foundation for continuous learning and improvement in cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness of USAID-funded education interventions.
The Cost Analysis Guidance provides examples of common cost questions and use cases, both for retrospective cost analysis and for prospective cost modeling to support education intervention scale-up, replication, or transfer.
- Cost Analysis Guidance for USAID-Funded Education Activities
Tools and Templates
To reduce the burden on those analyzing cost data and ensure a standardized analysis process, USAID provides a number of tools and templates for use in cost analysis.
Cost Measurement Special Interest Group (SIG)
USAID’s Cost Measurement Special Interest Group (SIG) includes members from USAID’s implementing and evaluation partners. The SIG serves as a forum to discuss the application of cost reporting and analysis guidance and to provide members an opportunity to share knowledge, ideas, and questions. SIG members also provide recommendations and feedback to USAID regarding guidance revisions and cost data utilization. The SIG meets on a quarterly basis. Email email@example.com if your organization would like to join the cost measurement SIG.
Cost-Related Studies in the Education Sector
As more activities begin collecting cost data, USAID and implementing partners will be able to conduct analyses to answer questions of interest to the education development field.
Education Cost Measurement Study Spotlight
Facilitating real-time cost collection and evaluating cost-effectiveness in a multi-armed study with government partners in Ghana, Shahana Hirji, Bethany Park, Edward Tsinigo, Sabrin Beg, Anne Fitzpatrick & Adrienne Lucas, 2022
Cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) provides organizations and policymakers with information for allocating limited budget resources. Challenges in conducting CEAs include collecting data across multiple sources, introducing cost assumptions, and delivering the results to partners. This paper introduces strategies to address these challenges and illustrates these concepts using a case study of the Strengthening Accountability to Reach All Students (STARS) project, a government implemented differentiated instruction project in Ghana.
- Harnessing cost data to improve early grade reading: cost evidence from a large-scale literacy initiative in Pakistan, Erin Byrne, Caitlin Tulloch, Naeem Sohail, Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns, 2022
- Cost of Teaching and Learning Materials, Ted Rizzo and Emma Venetis, 2021
- Cost-Benefit Analysis of the School Meals Programmes in Lao PDR, Helen Nicolas and Thiago Dias (MasterCard) and Serena Mithbaokar (WFP Lao PDR), 2018
- Educational Impacts and Cost-Effectiveness of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs in Developing Countries: A Meta-Analysis, Sandra García & Juan Saavedra, 2017
- Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Early Reading Programs: A Demonstration with Recommendations for Future Research, Fiona M. Hollands, Michael J. Kieffer, Robert Shand, Yilin Pan, Henan Cheng, and Henry M. Levin, 2016
Cross-Cutting Tools Templates or Guidance
- Discussion Note: Cost Data Collection and Analysis, USAID, 2022
- The State of Cost-Effectiveness Guidance: Ten Best Resources for CEA in Impact Evaluations, Douglas Glandon, Sam Fishman, Caitlin Tulloch, Radhika Bhula, Grace Morgan, Shahana Hirji & Liz Brown, 2022
- Technical Brief on Costing Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Activities, USAID Advancing Nutrition, 2021
- Standards for the Economic Evaluation of Educational and Social Programs, Cost Analysis Standards Project, American Institutes for Research, 2021
- Evaluation methods for assessing Value for Money, Farida Fleming, 2013
- Cost-effectiveness analysis of education and health interventions in developing countries, Patrick J. McEwan, 2012
Frequently Asked Questions about Cost Reporting
Download a Copy of the Cost Reporting FAQs
It’s our first time developing a cost reporting manual. Does USAID provide guidelines?
Yes! You can use the USAID Education Cost Reporting Manual to specify which cost categories the activity will report on and who is responsible for what. Because the codes are standardized across all USAID Education activities, partners who have already developed reporting manuals may be able to adapt them for new activities.
If staff members are asked to help out for a couple of days on a task they are not typically involved in, should they bill to a separate code?
Not necessarily. USAID recognizes that there may be “crunch” periods around accomplishing a specific deliverable where multiple people in the office pitch in, even if that’s not their job description. Staff members are not expected to learn new billing codes or change how they charge their time in these instances. Instead, they can continue billing their time to their assigned code(s).
What if staff members sit in meetings where multiple topics are discussed? Should they split the time according to each cost category?
No. Staff are only expected to bill their time to the codes that correspond to the work they routinely do. This means if a staff member who works on community engagement gives a 10-minute update during a management meeting on progress and challenges to date, but the meeting covers a range of topics for a full hour, the staff member should still bill their entire hour to the community engagement code.
How should we bill STTAs?
The same way you would for any other staff member! If an STTA is associated with a particular technical area, their labor and all associated costs should be billed to the relevant cost category. If the STTA is for overall management support, their labor and associated costs should be billed to Category 1.
Do subcontractors need to code their labor and expenses in the same way?
Yes! Often, subcontractors are hired to work on one or two particular topic areas. This makes it easy; all the work a subcontractor does can be billed to a single category code, including their management expenditure. If the subcontractor is working across categories, the Finance Team should assign them the relevant codes and train the subcontractor to make sure they understand how to accurately bill their time and other expenses. USAID/Washington staff are available to provide training and support, as well.
How should partners report on labor?
Reporting on labor expenditure includes disaggregating labor by locally hired staff, international staff, and consultants. Fringe benefits may be reported separately or rolled up.
Our activity works closely with the partner government. How do we know what contributions we are supposed to report on?
Remember that USAID is looking for estimates of substantial and activity-critical contributions that would otherwise need to be purchased. For example, the following needs to be reported on:
- Three MoE staff members are assigned to work with the team to develop primary grade reading curricula full-time for the first year of the activity.
- The local higher education institution provides office space for the activity staff, without which additional office space would have needed to be rented.
- The TVET provides a venue for a job fair held by a USAID-funded youth activity, without which the venue would need to be rented.
All these contributions are substantial (over $1,000 estimated value) and activity-critical, so they need to be documented using Template B. By contrast, the following contributions do NOT need to be reported:
- A high-level government official drops by an activity-sponsored event.
- Teachers’ time for when they are doing their jobs. They would be doing that job regardless of the intervention.
- A private company donates a set of company-branded tablets. Partner staff already have necessary technology and do not need the tablets.
Where should information on teacher coaches hired by the MoE be captured: in Template B1 (government contributions) or Template C (details of the intervention)?
Both. If the activity trains teacher coaches that are hired through the MoE, their labor should be captured in government contributions (Template B1). Their time spent coaching teachers should also be captured as “the number of hours of individualized training received by each teacher in the reporting period” in Template C1.
How is what’s captured in these templates different from cost share?
Cost share is a specific requirement referring to the resources an awardee leverages to the total cost of an award. It is part of the approved award budget and is verifiable. Template B3 captures cost-share data by relevant cost category. Partners may choose to submit existing cost-share reports as part of cost reporting, or Template B3.
How are partners supposed to document reported contributions?
Partners are not expected to engage in any verification activities to establish accuracy of contributions reported by third parties, nor they are expected to monetize such contributions. Basic documentation such as email exchanges, meeting notes, or an MOU with the government is sufficient. Contributions reporting will not be audited.
Our activity is implemented in Grades 2 and 3. We don’t see these grades in Template C1.
The templates must be adjusted to reflect the specific scope of the activity. Remove the fields in the template that are not relevant for your activity and add fields to reflect the actual scope of work.
How is the number of teaching and learning materials (TLMs) received by each learner/youth derived?
The number of TLMs per learner should be determined based on the activity reach and performance targets. For example:
- If the activity is supposed to deliver one reading book and one workbook per Grade 1 student, then the number reported should be Grade 1: 1 book, 1 workbook.
- If the activity is supposed to create small reading libraries with a set of 20 books per classroom, and the average number of children per classroom is 40, then the number recorded here should be one-half (.5).
Template C1 says the number of trained teachers reported in Template C1 might differ from what is submitted through the PPR system under the ES1-6 standard indicator? How so?
It is not uncommon that the same teacher is trained by the activity multiple times in different roles. For example, a primary school teacher can be trained in reading pedagogy, in math pedagogy, and as a school-based coach. This means that the activity incurred expenses for training that teacher three times, in three different capacities. While standard indicators focus on capturing data on unique individuals, cost reporting is interested in the actual number of functions performed as a result of USAID-supported training.
The templates ask for the description of the intervention. What if our intervention has evolved in response to changes in the context?
Most interventions are not implemented exactly as planned. It is important that implementers provide as detailed information as possible on the implemented intervention each time they submit the outputs and dosage reports, with notes on the changes that were made and the reasons behind those changes.
What is meant by coaching? Does this include mentoring?
Template C asks M&E staff to split out time teachers spend in group-based training versus time spent in coaching or individualized training. USAID recognizes that the resources and inputs associated with each are quite different, though this difference is not captured in the standard indicators. If the USAID activity-trained staff are providing both group training and individualized coaching or mentoring, this should be reported in dedicated fields in the appropriate template.
Should partners only report dosage on standard indicators?
If the activity reports on supplemental or custom indicators that are central to its performance management, it is recommended to include those in the reporting on details of the intervention. Templates for reporting on details of the intervention are included in Annex C of the Cost Reporting Guidance.
Why is USAID/Washington only asking for details on the output, not outcome indicators?
Information for outcome-level indicators is collected separately, from associated evaluation reports.
We have more questions. Where can we find help?
Please review the Cost Reporting Guidance and associated Annexes. If you still have questions, the USAID Center for Education provides on-demand technical assistance. Please reach out to your COR/AOR for guidance and to request support from Washington, or email firstname.lastname@example.org directly to receive assistance.