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Impact Investing – International Development’s New Holy Grail?

Posted by on Jan 8, 2018 in foreign aid, GIIN, impact investing, Impact Investors, international development, post project evaluation, Return on Investment (ROI), stakeholders, Sustainable development, Valuing Voices | 0 comments

Impact Investing – International Development’s New Holy Grail?

There are so many things I love about the private sector such as Forbes 18 Dec Quote of the Day: “You’re going to be wrong a fair amount of times. So the issue is, how do you be wrong well?” asked Ray Dalio, Founder of Bridgewater Associate. This is a key issue for impact investors and international ‘developers’ alike.

International development suffers from the myth that failure must be downplayed. Too often only success is highlighted, whereas project shortcomings are framed as: “less successful” “numerous issues affected a less optimal…” Yet by downplaying the less great (Aka awful) results we miss vital learning that private sector expects, learns from and integrates toward the greater success. Why? Many in foreign aid believe (rightly?) such admissions might endanger winning more funding for more projects. Even as recently as 2014, U.S. foreign aid industry websites such as DevEx are still posting: “One can be forgiven for forming the impression that our development efforts are nearly perfect if typical annual reports, scientific conferences and event social media content are the basis for information. Successes are proudly packaged in glossy formats and heavily disseminated, whereas any objectives not achieved are relegated to the obligatory, and typically short, lessons learned section. This practice does not accurately represent an important reality: development efforts do in fact fail…”

Admitting failure, posting failure reports are awfully rare in international development, but how bad is it? The Asian Development Bank wrote in a large overview of the sustainability of post-project results, “Some early evidence suggests that as many as 40% of all new activities are not sustained beyond the first few years after disbursement of external funding.” A 2017 Cambridge University study found that “using an original database of over 14,000 small development projects in Ghana, I estimate that one-third of projects that start are never completed, consuming nearly one-fifth of all local government investment.”   Even when they do start, complete, and even have salutary results at the end of the project, Valuing Voices research shows quick declines toward failures in as little as two years post exit, such as these post-project results at the AEA 2017 conference.  The foreign aid industry is so focused on showing results while conditions are (relatively) conducive, that far fewer than 1% of all projects are evaluated for what was still standing in as little as two years after project closeout, and those are mostly those projects expected to be successful.  Sustainable, long-term results suffer from what CGDev researchers are concerned “that pressure to demonstrate results in the short term may undermine efforts to ensure any impact is sustainable….Unfortunately, the pressure to show immediate results can encourage pursuit of agricultural investments unlikely to be sustained.” Luckily there’s a place to go. DevEx reminds us that “Venture capitalists and corporate investors understand that less than 20 percent of new businesses will succeed,” hence my love of the private sector’s admitting, learning and improving that ‘aid’ needs.

As a former investment banker (Solomon Brothers) and management consultant (Price Waterhouse & Coopers and Lybrand), I know that the corporates care for results, and do not shy away from pulling money from where things don’t work and put it where they do. 30 years in international development showed me that rigid bureaucracies and fixed ‘project cycles’ and an industry focused on ‘getting money out the door’ lead to a focus on accounting for all funds, but not for changing lives over the long term. Virtually no one calculates return on (our) investment compared to the cost of projects, especially including the value of what projects generate and participants can sustain.

I am quite fervently hoping Impact Investors focused on financial ROI to firms and investors as well as Social Return on Investment will step in, fund gathering and learning from the whole range of ‘returns’. Will they share both financial profits/ losses and feedback from the whole social ‘value chain’ of stakeholders of those involved on what succeeds and fails? Will investors learn from national partners and participants on what should be done better? If yes, all of us will win. I am heartened by cautiously optimistic statements such as Next Billion’s “a core characteristic and challenge of impact investing is the measurement and management of social and environmental impacts alongside financial returns. Development cooperation and impact investing communities can build on their respective experience in results measurement and learn from and with each other.”  We can IF we are going to the same place.

From my early look at impact investing, it is a ‘game changer’ with $250 billion in assets looking for a profitable home. UBS Asset Manager Baldinger says “In the past you sold products to your client, now you empower your client to create a desired impact. As an industry, we’ve had to rethink everything we do — impact and sustainability is the Silicon Valley of finance and we want to be the Google.”  These are happy words to someone focused on sustained (and emerging) impacts but among impact investors, so far, ‘impact’ seems to be thrown about as specifically as ‘results’, and GIIN ‘sustainability’ metrics are so wide ranging as to illuminate less quality than quantity. So far, much of their metrics look more like outputs relevant to companies (‘clients served’, ‘new investment capital’) that results of SROI. While there is something to be said about measures of ‘organizations trained’, ‘poverty assessments’ done, at least as a start, yet does ‘gross profit’ indicate that corner of the world is better off (and does this measure the investment into the enterprise, or is this of the investment fund itself)? Does ‘communities served’ and ‘social impact objectives’ illuminate the quality of the impact on lives changed? Is anyone asking how long-lasting, and sustained these investments, measuring what I call SUStained Return on Investment (SUSROI), will be after these investors leave (which is what I suspect most investment participants and millennial investors think they’re buying)?

This is the start of a series of blogs exploring how we who care about generating and evaluating sustained impacts can learn from, inform, (gasp) shape impact investing’s gargantuan footprint in international development.  Powerhouses such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and Soros are looking, teaching, investing, and all public and private equity as well as a whole range of other investors now invest in this new hybrid.  Who else is? What can we learn to make the world better? What do you think: Is impact investing development’s holy grail?

Can’t wait to learn from post-project sustainability evaluation? If not why?

Posted by on Nov 29, 2017 in Aid effectiveness, Better Evaluation, ex-post evaluation, Honduras, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, post-project evaluation, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation, USAID | 0 comments

Can’t wait to learn from post-project sustainability evaluation? If not why?

A colleague who has been promoting ex-post sustainability evaluation in her organization questioned my claim that doing them had “benefits” for future programming. It was an “untested assumption that there will be sufficient, strong enough evidence to apply to future programming…  [and] the need to have evidence to cite for future work is not pressing enough.”

If you are on aid’s receiving end, what you care about is that good results are sustained, and you are able to live better, longer. You might want to show others evidence of what was sustained, rather than only what worked while external investments were there but stopped since. Absolutely, aid donors need to have evidence that something designed, funded, implemented, and monitored & evaluated showed good results, but we assume our results will be sustained after we have closed out and moved on. How well have we done? Let’s see.

At the American Evaluation Association meetings this month, several post-project evaluations were presented. Some came from Valuing Voices research, some from Social Impact, PLAN and World Vision and some others.  Results 3-5 years post close-out were, shall we say unexpected, from Madagascar:

Nigeria,

and Honduras.

While there were some successes, including Niger

and Burkina Faso, where MCC/ PLAN found that three years post project “BRIGHT still had a significant positive impact—6.0 percentage points for children between ages 6 and 22—on self-reported enrollment. The impacts are smaller than estimated impacts on enrollment at 7 and 3 years after the start of the program,” they were rare.

If we don’t wonder why things didn’t work or why they did, and don’t return to find out if it happened again and what to do/ not to do again?, Often we continue to do very similar programming elsewhere, again assuming great results. How can we close our eyes and not do post project, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations (SEIE) and see, learn, do better?  How can we continue to do very similar water/ sanitation, health, food security, and education programs and projects (with potentially similar results), and call ourselves sustainable development professionals? Shouldn’t we always ask not how effective is our aid when it’s there, but after its gone?

If you want more data, see a presentation we did at USAID. What do you think?

Building the Evidence Base for Post Project Evaluation: A report to the Faster Forward Fund

Posted by on Aug 2, 2017 in evaluability checklist, ex-post evaluation, Faster Forward Fund (3F), measuring sustainability checklist, Participation, post-project evaluation, Project cycle, SEIE, Sustainability, Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluation (SEIE), Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation, Valuing Voices | 0 comments

Building the Evidence Base for Post Project Evaluation: A report to the Faster Forward Fund

We are delighted to share Valuing Voices' report on the value added of post-project evaluation, which compares findings from eight end-of-project and subsequent post project evaluations.  Many of you are aware of how rarely post project evaluations are undertaken.  As a result, there is little real evidence about project impact on long-term sustainability.   Valuing Voices received a grant from Michael Scriven’s Faster Forward Fund to begin to address this gap.

Our findings show that post project evaluations can contribute to better understanding of sustainability impacts, and reveal unexpected and emerging outcomes years after project close. They also indicate ways in which we can design and implement for sustainability

Finding suitable projects for this review was difficult because so few post project evaluations are done, fewer are publically available, and fewer still had comparable final evaluations and included local voices.  Agencies that fund post project evaluations offer a range of reasons for doing so: to learn, to promote a success, to inform replication or scale, to provide justification for future funding, to promote accountabilities.  However, many funding agencies consider post project evaluation a luxury or not necessary.  JICA and OECD are notable exceptions in this regard.

Highlights include:

  • The review highlights the range of methods that have been used in post project evaluations, and point to the advantages of planning for sustainability measurement from the outset of the project.
  • The cases reviewed in the study highlight the (sometime dramatic) difference between the anticipated trajectory of a project, what is happening as the project ends, and what actually continued, was adapted, ceased or changed course after close out.  
  • Taxonomies, knowledge management about evaluation, data retrieval/ retention, analysis, use and dissemination are elements of sustained impact evaluation that require attention.
  • Little documentation is available about how post project evaluations have actually informed and influenced organizational learning, sectoral dialogue or future programming.
  • Post project evaluations shed particularly interesting light on what emerged post-project that was entirely due to the efforts and resources of participants and partners after project investments stopped. More on these Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations (SEIEs) at Better Evaluation.

As part of this report, Valuing Voices created an evaluability checklist for assessing whether a post project evaluation is viable, as well as a checklist for measuring sustainability starting at the beginning of the project cycle.

We welcome your comments on this report and checklists, and encourage you to share it in your networks and get us feedback on their use.  Please use the report and findings to advocate for more post project sustainability impact evaluations which will contribute to greater evidence-based learning about project sustainability.  Valuing Voices is among a handful of organizations who do post-project evaluations and we can either conduct one or refer you to another who does.

 

Thank you,

Laurie Zivetz, MPH, PhD and Jindra Cekan, PhD, with Kate Robins, MPH, PhD of Valuing Voices

 

 

Living in a Well-meaning Lie: Valuing all Voices? – The Solutions Journal

Posted by on May 3, 2017 in Accountability, Community Driven Development, Evaluation, Return on Investment (ROI), Sustainability, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation | Comments Off on Living in a Well-meaning Lie: Valuing all Voices? – The Solutions Journal

Living in a Well-meaning Lie: Valuing all Voices?

By Jindra Cekan


Solar panels in Cap Haitien, Haiti.

Poor villagers like Edith, Aminata, Rituu, and Juan don’t appear much on the nightly news.  You might never know they exist unless you stop and read your mail from some charity asking you to help them.  On the brochures, they can look scared or sad; maybe surrounded by their thin children, with a parched land or dying animals behind them. Our foreign aid programs should be helping them, but are they?

 

I have met these people while they are working in their fields, growing corn and peas, millet and coffee, raising their chickens and goats. I have talked to them outside of health centers where they have brought their babies to be vaccinated or their parents for medical care.  I got to know them when I interviewed them under the big tree in the middle of their village, or in empty school rooms, asking them what they need from us, and how we can design foreign aid projects to better help them.

 

I have worked in international development as a technical expert in project design and monitoring and evaluation for international non-profits such as Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, the Red Cross, and many others including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). I estimate that I have designed and evaluated over 200 projects in 28 countries over the last 29 years. I have felt lucky to do this work, and foreign aid does achieve some very good work while we are there: helping farmers to farm better, or helping men and women to care for their family’s health, wealth, and future with new knowledge, tools, and items they need for daily living. My colleagues do wonderful work as well, in hard conditions, within countries with few resources, and for donors with unrealistic expectations of how much can be done well in short timeframes.  In 2010, USAID stated that they would aim for 30 percent of funding to be spent by national partners under USAID Forward.1 This is an excellent step toward the country-led development that the Paris Accords promised, yet as of 2016, there is no list of local partners, other than a handful of examples.2 The only ‘country partners’ list posted to the USAID website includes 80 organizations doing programming via USAID in Afghanistan alone, 55 of which are American firms, four US agencies, nine Afghan government-affiliated organizations, six foreign governments, six UN agencies, and two MENA firms.3 Not quite the national civil-society-NGO partners we envisioned in 2010. Under the new U.S. administration, these are likely to shrink even more as the 0.5 percent of our GNP we allocate to foreign aid is redirected inward—that much more reason to make it as sustained as possible.  European aid as well as other rising world nations need this approach just as much.

Large parts of international aid system remain broken. We design too many projects outside of the countries themselves. We have fixed funding and leave in pre-set times rather than when participants are actually ready to take over. We ‘handover’ without partnering throughout the whole project so that partners can determine what they are able to sustain. Even worse, we leave and do not look back to learn from our Ediths and Juans after our projects have closed.  Sometimes, we disparage their knowledge, and at other times we don’t make enough time to ask but wish we did. Mostly, our aid industry is designed around measuring success while we intervene, and then abruptly leave because funding ended. Yet development is, as international evaluator Ian Davies says, “A process, not a result.”

 

Our policies say we are doing “sustainable development”, that we are helping our ‘beneficiaries’ (really our partners and participants) feed themselves over the long-term, that our projects are almost all successful, and that all we need to do is to scale up the great projects out there.  But the numbers prove we are not, in fact, achieving sustainable development. Nine times out of ten, we rarely go back to talk to our participants and partners after our project end, and we move on.

 

The numbers are staggering:

  • Of the US$5 trillion dollars of international foreign aid spent since 1945, we have evaluated the long-term sustainability far less than one percent of the time.
  • Since 2000, for example, USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation have only done three such evaluations apiece, yet they spent well over US$300 billion.
  • The EU evaluated only a few dozen of its projects and programs, in spite of spending US$1.5 trillion in the last 15 years. The United Nations Development Program may do up to six a year, and the World Bank more, but how often do any of them talk to project participants and design anew based on what we learned that succeeded and failed?
  • The Japan International Cooperation Agency, and to some degree EU bilateral countries (through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), have evaluated the sustainability of over 300 projects.
  • Despite this, tens of thousands of new projects are launched every year.
Cekan 2
Satellites atop homes in a slum in Tigray, Ethopia.

 

This is why I founded Valuing Voices—to analyze what little we know to make development better.4 Not to destroy international development, but to change how we fund, design, and implement it. We need to design for sustainability of the activities by the country nationals themselves, rather than designing for results we can show to get more funding. We also must jointly implement, monitor, and evaluate our projects so countries can continue after we leave. Smaller organizations can do even simple activities, designing projects based on what the participants feel they can self-sustain, and partnering with those who will take over while they are still there.

 

Having spread the word for the last three years, to mostly little response, I now turn to you, readers.  Our analysis – and a wonderful 2012 book, Time to Listen by Mary Anderson and Dayna Brown, shows that sometimes when our projects partner with country nationals, their people become – and stay – better off.5They want to be engaged, yet our very structure of delivering aid prevents this. Often we are not there long enough to make a lasting difference, or we invest scarce time on untested innovations that work in some places but don’t in others. Even worse, sometimes we design activities so badly that villages are left with irrelevant technology and trainings, wasted funding, and lost hopes. At other times, there are successes as well, but not returning robs us of the chance to replicate those. We do ‘impact evaluations,’ but only on successes during project implementation, and not on what people can self-sustain after we leave. Our vision is so limited. Our well-meaning self-interest blinds us.

 

Across the board, our development projects make one massive and incorrect assumption that once we ‘handover’ the project, the local government, community, and households have the means to sustain our multi-million dollar investments.6 We assume that technical knowledge will still be locally available to the villagers, that inputs like seeds and tools, data and vaccines will be accessible both physically and financially, that the government staff have the means to get to villages or that new NGOs and donors will appear to fill the gaps. The Huffington Post has stated, “as long-term projects and action-plans are established, more investment must go into financing locally designed solutions and projects that ensures ownership is placed back into local communities.”7 While more project have begun using feedback loops of listening to participants during implementation, virtually all good work stops when project funding stops.

 

Don’t we want development to be sustained after resources leave, and the opinions of these aid recipients to be heard? Don’t we want the next project to address the needs better?  Don’t we, as taxpayers, want to demand that agencies using our tax dollars learn what is really sustainable and what is not?  And shouldn’t we demand that all projects costing more than US$1 million over the past 10 years be examined now for lessons learned by sector (agriculture, health, credit, education, etc) and region? Shouldn’t post-project sustainability evaluations be included in all new projects?  Don’t our participants and partners deserve the dignified futures they hope for, our creating channels for their voices that enable them to evaluate us and teach us how we can help them to be successful?

 

In fact, a radical Foreign Aid Transparency Act was just passed in the U.S. in June 2016.8 The bill calls for the President, within 18 months of enactment, to “set forth guidelines…for the establishment of measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans that can be applied with reasonable consistency to covered United States foreign assistance.” These include ‘ex-post’ (sustainability) evaluations, and “can have enormous value when it comes to making programming and budgeting decisions.”  Yet while there is a call for guidance to be developed, no funding came along with this bill.  Without the funds to make this happen, this may be more ‘window dressing’ for sustainable development than excellent policy.

Cekan 3
A small enterprise in Cap Haitien, Haiti.

 

There is some hope coming from the corporate sector. While impact investors are often more focused on return from emerging economies than fostering sustainable development, corporate social responsibility is building bridges in lovely ways.  Tsikululu Social Investment of South Africa has thought about what advice to give to the companies they advise on such investments, as well as exiting from them.9

 

We argue that our budgeting needs a basic business metric: Return on Investment. In a time of huge demands on our resources worldwide from refugee flows, terrorism and climate change, we currently do little or no analysis of:

  • How much actual investment: What percent of allocated funds went to the activities that benefitted the partners and participants themselves, rather than being used as overhead for operations?
  • How much return: What is the value of what remains used 3-10 years after we leave? What was the value-added that communities and other funders (including the national governments themselves) who followed catalyzed based on our earlier investments? What were unexpected new results that emerged?

 

We envision a beautiful future, one where Edith, Aminata, Rituu, and Juan and their local partners are at the center of development.  We imagine a world in which we listen to what people in need can sustain for themselves. Through these approaches data is shared widely on what has worked best and why; aid projects invest in country-systems and staff that boost their ability to self-sustain; and only sustainable projects are designed and funded that foster country-led development. The global adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals finally puts the focus on all we can do to foster sustainability of our work.

 

By valuing voices and focusing on sustainable solutions for excellent impacts, this will promote truly sustainable development from our aid organizations, government and non-governmental alike. We have much to learn, and there is not a moment to waste before we start Valuing Voices of those we serve and partner with on country-led development.

 

References

  1. USAID Forward. USAID [online] (2017). https://www.usaid.gov/usaidforward.
  2. In-country Partners. USAID [online] (2016). https://www.usaid.gov/partnership-opportunities/in-country-partners.
  3. Implementing Partners. USAID [online] (2017). https://www.usaid.gov/afghanistan/implementing-partners.
  4. Valuing Voices [online]. http://valuingvoices.com/.
  5. Jacobs, A. Time to Listen by Dayna Brown and Mary B Anderson. NGO Performance [online] (December 4, 2012). https://ngoperformance.org/2012/12/04/time-to-listen-by-dayna-brown-and-….
  6. Cekan, J. What happens after the project ends? Lessons about funding, assumptions and fears (Part 3). Valuing Voices [online] (February 29, 2016). http://valuingvoices.com/what-happens-after-the-project-ends-lessons-abo….
  7. Zuabi, V. Investing in Locally Designed Solutions for Syria and the Middle East. The Huffington Post [online] (May 24, 2016). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-zuabi/investing-in-locally-desi_b_….
  8. Ingram, G, Miles, C & Veillette, C. The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act is Law! Now What? Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network [online] (August 2, 2016). http://modernizeaid.net/2016/08/foreign-aid-transparency-accountability-….
  9. Cekan, J. Towards responsible donor exiting strategies and practices: Reblog from Tshikululu. Valuing Voices [online] (October 8, 2016). http://valuingvoices.com/towards-responsible-donor-exiting-strategies-an….

Source: Living in a Well-meaning Lie: Valuing all Voices? – The Solutions Journal

How ‘new’ are our projects… and who is aiming at the right outcomes?

Posted by on Apr 6, 2017 in Aid effectiveness, Better Evaluation, Evaluation, ex-post evaluation, Faster Forward Fund, International aid, M&E, methodologies, outcomes, post-project evaluation, SEIE, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation | 4 comments

How 'new' are our projects… and who is aiming at the right outcomes?

Valuing Voices exciting news is we have received research grant funding from the esteemed evaluator, Michael Scriven's Faster Forward Fund. We're looking into the value-added of (ex-post) Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations (SEIEs) and we are doing the research now. We will be documenting methods used and discuss how best to evaluate such sustained impacts after project close-out. Very exciting stuff in this staggeringly 'new' field of evaluation.

During this research, a senior international development evaluation expert told us that they can't return to evaluate now-closed projects because they aren't the same projects anymore (after closeout) and we are no longer responsible for the results. That took my breath away.

All new projects come from old projects… we recycle old project design most of the time, occasionally making substantive changes in targeting or design but much of how we design and implement remains the same. And while we thoroughly evaluate them during implementation, learning ex-post is a key missing link which all projects in the future can benefit from as we do similar interventions and track similar outcomes year after year but we rarely know which ones were sustained or emerged anew. There absolutely are aspects that get adapted but there are only so many ways to heal the sick, improve crop growth, save money, learn to read and so on, and there is a world we need to learn about what enabled some to be sustained and even morph into new results!

This excellent article, Do NGOs (non-governmental organization) help?, notes that "due to donor pressure [NGOs] are increasingly forced to respond with a discrete project with x number of deliverable outcomes."  It goes on to cite D. Sriskandarajah, the secretary-general of Civicus, a global network of civil society organizations and activists, wrote: ‘We have become a part of the problem rather than the solution… Since demonstrating bang for your buck has become all-important, we divide our work into neat projects, taking on only those endeavours that can produce easily quantifiable outcomes. Reliant on funding to service our own sizeable organizations, we avoid approaches or issues that might threaten our brand or upset our donors. We trade in incremental change.’"

We also settle for results while we control them, and don't ask unpopular questions about who is to sustain these results, with what resources, and for goodness sake, why sustained impact was not funded, designed, implemented and monitored/ evaluated from the very onset in our rush to measurable results?

DontSettleForLess

As this great NGO article by Dinyar Godrej goes on to say, "most media scrutiny of NGO accountability is of how they use funds, their accountability to donors. But what of their accountability towards the recipients of their interventions?" They have no lobbyists to persuade our funders they would like this but nto that, and often such lobbying for their needs falls to the very NGOs that have won these large contracts and tasked with implementing a dizzying array of mandatory input, output, outcome and some impact indicators. We do care deeply about results!  US State Department/ USAID has a "Standard Foreign Assistance Master Indicator List" of 2,300 lines in an excel spreadsheet. (There are more indicators still– custom and cross-cutting indicators, the mind boggles).

Wow. But are we asking the right questions? Are we asking what was sustained after all this hard work was done and ended? Rarely. Who should be?! "It is perhaps unrealistic to expect such large structural changes to be delivered by NGOs when governments don’t tackle them either."

For the rub is this. When we take development over from national governments, largely do not involve country nationals in the funding, design and M&E of projects, then how sustained can these projects still be after we go? Millions are invested, then disappear… Last year, at local debrief at the end of one SEIE Valuing Voices did, the state of affairs became crystal clear when a government official asked us "Can you ever find some funds to fund us to do our own independent evaluations? Even if it is not the projects that they did themselves? We would be happy to get that support…”

When are we no longer responsible for doing great, sustained work? Valuing Voices will let you know what we found regarding the best ways to do SEIEs more. Stay tuned.

What do you think?

P.S. This blog topic prompted me to look for statistics on the number or percentage of funded projects that were renewed. Nothing.  Does anyone know how many or what % of projects were extended/ funded again after showing good results? (Often this happens in the form that a successful project in one area of the country gets either funded again or repeated elsewhere in the country or in the world, as have two of our own SEIEs, Niger and Ethiopia). For that matter, what made them so excellent to be replicated? What can we learn? 

Leading in Challenging Times: Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation (SEIEs)- reposted from Medium.com

Posted by on Mar 2, 2017 in Aid effectiveness, Better Evaluation, Corporate Social Responsibility, Dare to Lead, Effective Philanthropy, ex-post evaluation, Foundations, impact evaluation, Impact Investors, international development, Participants, partners, post-project evaluation, SEIE, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation, Valuing Voices | 0 comments

Leading in Challenging Times: Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation (SEIEs)
 

Some American organizations are retrenching, focusing more attention on domestic rather than international programming. Some are pulling back from critique of international development to informing legislators of its benefits; the Center for Global Development's changed 'Rethinking US Development Policy' blog to only "US Development Policy". UN’s Refugee Agency questions whether to challenge Washington's tough line on refugees from countries such as Syria, or should it stay quiet in the hopes of protecting its funding?" 

 

Reticence is understandable in this 'climate', so to speak, but fear does not change the world, leadership does. Envisioning and creating the world we want gets us there.

 

There may be no better time to build the evidence base on what works in sustainable development as these are low cost investments if we use national staff and focus research well. We have seen this in the fewer than 1% of all projects that have been evaluated post-closeout for sustainability. At the very least, we can learn what we should do differently in the next design, to fully foster sustainability, once more funding emerges. Many are interested in great results. Hundreds of 'impact evaluations' are happening on aid effectiveness; our industry wants to learn what works and what we could do better.

Our SEIE work goes beyond current understanding of ‘impact’ to see what projects our partners and participants can self-sustain ex-post for years to come which is an excellent investment in proving cost-effectiveness.  While some governments' investments can diminish in the short term, national governments, and other funders such as a range of international bilateral and multilateral donors, foundations corporate social responsibility and impact investors do want to invest in provably "sustainable" development.

 

Why should we invest in SEIEs?

* Hundreds of thousands of projects are still being implemented.

* Millions of participants are still hoping what we are doing together will be sustainable.

* Billions of dollars, euros, kwacha, pesos, rupees are being spent on new projects that need to be designed and implemented for future sustainability.

 

Implementing organizations could be fearful to see what remains once funding and technical assistance are withdrawn, but such a view not only robs our industry of exciting lessons on what did change and was so valued that it was sustained, but also what to not do again. Not returning post-project also short-changes our participants. In our SEIEs, we have found participants and partners creating new ways to carry on, innovating beyond what we could imagine during our assistance.

 

We also need to start now to design and implement for sustainability. doing SEIEs, we can start to understand the 'drivers' behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) results with countries tracking some 120 indicators across 17 goals . Currently countries are tracking up to 230 indicators across the 17 Goals. But while such monitoring shows ‘GDP has increased or ‘under-nourishment has decreased’, there is little or no information on what has caused it.  Yet doing and SEIE on a large donor-funded programme, we can explore what elements made projects sustainable and how to do more (or less) there and elsewhere. Such sentinel site support for learning about sustained and emerging impacts is key to understand some of the why, for example, did income or health improve.

 

 

 

 

Dare to lead, especially in these challenging times.  We know of organizations that are doing these evaluations internally, others are publishing them on their sites. Leadership happens at all levels, from internal, technical to managerial and administrative work to external evaluators and consultants as well as public pressure.

How can you foster sustained impact?

* You can advocate for such evaluations

* You can share the SEIE guidance, below, and start to design and implement, monitor and evaluate sustainably in all projects/ proposals you are designing now.

* You can see if your organization has done any post-project sustainability evaluations and we can post them on Valuing Voices' repository, celebrating your organization. 

We can help you learn how to do these. Our partner, Better Evaluation, just published our Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation as a 'new' evaluation 'theme.'  

 

Guidance there shows you:

1. What is SEIE?

2. Why do SEIE?

3. When to do SEIE?

4. Who should be engaged in the evaluation process?

5. What definitions and methods can be used to do an SEIE?

Resources

References

 

SEIEs will grow as will examples, discussions, and joy as embracing sustainability sprouts, and sends us progressing in yet-unforeseen ways!  We are excited to be in the final stages of receiving a research grant to further guide SEIEs. We will share that news in our next blog.

 

We want to learn from you:

* What do you think needs to be in place for funders to move beyond the funding cycle and do an SEIE?

* What would help to make this type of evaluation more widely undertaken?

* If you have done a post-project evaluation, how did you do it? What were some of the barriers you faced and resources you were able to draw on to overcome them?

How can we lead together to Value the Voices of those we serve!?

(Reposted from https://medium.com/@WhatWeValue/leading-in-challenging-times-sustained-and-emerging-impacts-evaluation-seies-617b33bf4d27#.ec7fcg4ty)

Making up your mind. Prioritizing and making it happen

Posted by on Jan 17, 2017 in 3ie, Accountability, Aid effectiveness, Better Evaluation, CDA, Doing Development Differently, Evaluation, ex-post evaluation, impact evaluation, NGO, Participants, partners, post-project evaluation, SEIE, stakeholders, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluation (SEIE), Sustained Impact Evaluation, USAID | 0 comments

Making up your mind. Prioritizing and making it happen

 

* As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: https://shanemcdonnell45.wordpress.com/tag/darkness-into-light/

* Our President, Barack Obama said in his farewell speech, "change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it".

* OXFAM International demanded changing shocking inequity: "just eight billionaires own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity".

* Caroline Heider of the World Bank's IEG asked we examine how we evaluate long-term impacts: "current considerations of efficiency, cost savings, or cost-benefit analyses are challenged to take long-term impacts into account".

 

What do you want to prioritize and demand of international development? In these times of shifting priorities in powerful nations, where politicians are questioning the needs of those whom many of us have been serving, what do you want to demand? What issue do you prioritize, and want to move forward?

 

I choose to prioritize sustained impact driven by country-nationals. Why? I grew up in large cities, and when I first worked in Africa’s Sahel desert 25 years ago, the herders and farmers making a living from the arid pastures and sandy soil, with wells 100 feet deep astonished me.

 

Without them, I’d last 3 days out there. They were the experts.

 

I always assumed we measured ‘sustainable’ development in work with such herders and farmers, but in 2013 I founded Valuing Voices after I began to see how rarely we return to evaluate what remained after our foreign aid projects stopped.

 

Reviewing  thousands of “ex-post” or “post-project” documents in 30 organizations’ public databases, Valuing Voices has found the vast majority of documents only suggested a post-project be done, a small proportion were desk studies and fewer than 1% were original fieldwork post-project evaluations of sustainability. In these 370 post-project (ex-post) evaluations, development workers asked partners and participants what was still standing, showed what succeeded or failed and what unexpected successes participants created themselves from what we left behind.

 

Returning to learn, consulting our participant-experts seems so common sense as they are the ones that can tell us what we should replicate, adapt or abandon.  In 2015 research we found only three World Bank IEG evaluations that asked participants their views in a methodologically clear way (out of 33 post-project PPAR evaluations), and only one was perceived as successful.  On the other hand, in 2014, IRIN highlighted Rwanda’s very successful community based nutrition solutions, replete with participant voices.  We have found 23 ‘catalytic’ (mostly NGO) organizations having done one or more (ex-) post-project evaluation that include participant input and each of them is filled with excellent lessons for doing ‘development’ well now and after closeout. Yet what are any of these organizations doing differently and why are so few doing more? Why do donors seem to care so little about sustained impact that such studies are so rarely funded by them, and NGOs use private funds? That is what drives me.

 

A seminal book, Time to Listen asked 6,000 such participant-experts in 20 countries what they wanted foreign aid to look like. “Very few people call for more aid; virtually everyone says they want “smarter” aid…. A majority criticize the “waste” of money and other resources through programs they perceive as misguided or through the failure of aid providers to be sufficiently engaged… [it is] a supply-driven approach that squeezes out the views of the recipients, and a focus on spending – both volume and speed, which undermines aid’s ability to listen, learn and adapt to local contexts.”

Sobering stuff.

 

While Valuing Voices is not profitable (yet?) and growth is slow, I continue to evaluate and advocate, believing that designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating for sustained impact by our true clients is key to successful work life well spent.

 

We need a sustained impact mindset.

 

We are getting there. Better Evaluation just featured our Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluation (SEIE) approach as a new theme in evaluation. OXFAM and Save the Children recently wrote “The Power of Ownership: Transforming US Foreign Assistance” (2016). They ask: “country ownership is at the core of effective development… as the United States transitions to a new President and new leadership for development cooperation, how will the next administration build on current successes and chart a path forward?“  I fear the answer, as it takes trust and interest in countries’ capacity to chart their own way forward.  USAID (and maybe other donors?) are ready to help. USAID alone has some done some exciting work recently through USAID Forward’s local partners (e.g. Afghanistan has done this in depth) and it has looked at Local Systems. Food For Peace’s strategy includes sustainability.

 

What will be a priority in 2017 onward? What each of us creates will remain.

 

The powerful Sidekick Manifesto beautifully proposes this new core belief which we can each espouse, that “Local leaders with local solutions to local problems” will end poverty. We will not.” We can, however, “always be listening, learning and seeking a deeper understanding…” I am delighted to be a sidekick in projects that prioritize participant and partner views, for that is how they end poverty.

 

What do you want to prioritize and create? What is so vital for you that you must work on it?  What has been neglected?  What difference do you want to make?  GO!

Embedding Sustainability Everywhere – All Five Slices Now

Posted by on Dec 12, 2016 in Aid effectiveness, DFID, Doing Development Differently, Evaluation, Exit strategies, Feedback loops, Food for Peace (FFP), International aid, international development, NGO, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluation (SEIE), Sustained Impact Evaluation, USAID, Valuing Voices | 0 comments

Embedding Sustainability Everywhere – All Five Slices Now

It has been a tumultuous year, and next year does not look like we will have much stability as a respite. As domestic concerns grow larger in two huge economies, US and UK, the question of the place foreign aid will play abound in conversations around the world.

However 2017's transitions transform our work, for now I do have some good news,

1) Sustainability can be cheap. Far cheaper, in fact to design for sustainability, create feedback loops checking on sustainability through the eyes of our partners and participants, monitor for sustainability than to assume it'll happen and far cheaper than finding out funds could have had far greater impact if we had valued their voices in the first place.  

In our work to help our clients and partners fund, design, implement and monitor/ evaluate with sustainability in mind, we created what we hope is a helpful tool (guidance forthcoming). 

a) By Designing for Sustainability with those who will sustain them, their financial buy-in and commitment are far higher (see CRS/ Niger), as is advocacy and community buy-in (see new post-project OXFAM/ DRC) and there are indicators the costs of start-up later are more cost-effective. 

b) By clarifying Sustainability Indicators we check assumptions about who will do so, how much of a priority our activities are before we scale them up (Federation/ Ethiopian Red Cross). Retrospective post-project sustainability evaluations also enable us to learning from past successes and do better.

c) Sustainability Monitoring and Adaptation involve those pesky but pivotal feedback loops which are vital to understanding if we have gone off the rails or not, especially in terms of unexpected shocks derailing logical frameworks of designed projects.  USAID's nice recent CLA (Collaborating, Learning, Adapting) process includes donor funding for adaptation mid-stream which fosters effectiveness and sustainability. Even lovelier are the Doing Development Differently examples that are often very low-cost and high-effect.

d) Informed Exit, Stakeholder Sustainability Consultation should be done throughout the cycle, at least a year earlier than most projects can begin this (note; not the last few months please). Transitioning for success leverages sunk costs for ongoing results. It includes heavy knowledge management on how the implementers managed information and resources, tracked data, sustained outputs and outcomes which now local partners will need to do, etc (FFP Exit Strategies study, a Czech study, and a new UK Results study shows range of items to consider during and post-transition).

e) Post-Project Sustainability: Our Valuing Voices/ Better Evaluation/ Tufts joint presentation at AEA on SEIE has more on how learning from post-project evaluation lessons can change sustainability of future projects for the better! Further, what capacities and systems have been built in-country to sustain the results after our funding and expertise leaves? What can we do differently?

Can it be done? Demand is rising. I recently presented at a conference about embedding sustainability in programming now, and an enterprising NGO took this idea to heart. They proposed joint design with communities, which is the very bedrock of designing for sustained impact. Kudos!

 

2) Secondly, donors are willing to pay for sustainability.  Sustainability is ensconced in USAID/ Food For Peace's (FFP) 2016 Strategy and CLA (above). In the section called New learning and Implications for FFP Programming, they present findings such as "actions that drive big results during the life of the project may actually undermine sustainability in the long run. It raises the question as to whether FFP is willing to accept more modest results in the near term if they can be delivered in a way that will yield more sustainable gains over time…."

They also point us in the direction of cFood_for_Peace_Food_Assistance_and_Food_Security_Strategy_2016–2025___U_S__Agency_for_International_Developmentountry-led development: "Sustained capacity, resources, motivation, and linkages all require a focus on catalysts for change beyond FFP.  Facilitative approaches that rely on and strengthen local actors help ensure that resource and knowledge transfers, and the incentives and linkages that support them, will be self-perpetuating beyond project end".  Notably, while UK's DFID focuses on maximizing impact through Value-for-Money, it is a shorter-term economy, efficiency and effectiveness rather than sustained impact for the end-users and DFID's exit strategies have recently been critiqued

There is an issue of disincentives for the new administration to heed (if the agricultural lobby for US food exports does not prevail): "In [USAID’s exit] study evaluating how sustainable the results of Title II development programs are 2–3 years after project closure, FFP found that “providing free resources can threaten sustainability, unless replacement of those resources both as project inputs and as incentives has been addressed.” As the Natural Resources section notes, "Whether entirely in the hands of the community or linked to a formal institution, the incentives and resources necessary to maintain a community asset are part of the system that will sustain it. The lack of such systems is visible in rusted irrigation pumps, failed mangrove plantations, abandoned bore wells, eroded dikes, and silted-in fish ponds around the world". Yet the private and public sectors are important: "Sustainable, broad-based change is more likely to be achieved by supporting and strengthening existing community, private sector, and public sector mechanisms for product and service delivery, and by supporting the capacity, quality, and accountability of government institutions"

FFP’s new strategy calls for taking a systems approach to change that emphasizes sustainable long-term gains over unsustainable short-term wins. Even more delightful, in a small meeting at MFAN with Dina Esposito, Director of Food For Peace in November, she announced that they were looking to do pilot funding of an additional three years to typical five-year DFAP development projects. One year would involve collaborative participatory design between partners, communities and FFP, the second additional years being evaluation post-project of sustained and emerging impact!

This is a sea shift that can hopefully withstand political winds. After all, US foreign aid accounts for less than 1% of our federal budget, even though many Americans believe it is over 15% (hence easy to cut)…. but fingers crossed the aid effectiveness value of our work is… Valued.

Presenting Lessons on (post-project) Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluations from the U.S. AEA Conference

Posted by on Nov 1, 2016 in American Evaluation Association (AEA), Evaluation, Exit strategies, Food for Peace (FFP), Food security, impact evaluation, international development, Project cycle, SEIE, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluation (SEIE) | 0 comments

Presenting Lessons on (post-project) Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluations from the U.S. AEA Conference

Dear readers, attached please find the barking-up-a-better-tree-aea-oct-26-final presentation we did last week at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference in Atlanta GA. I had the pleasure of co-presenting with Beatrice Lorge Rogers PhD, Professor, Friedman Nutrition School, Tufts University (aka the famous Food for Peace/ Tufts Exit Strategy study), Patricia Rogers PhD, Director, BetterEvaluation, Professor, Australia and New Zealand School of Government (where we recently published guidance on SEIE) and Laurie Zivetz PhD, International Development Consultant and Valuing Voices evaluator.

 

We integrated our presentations from Africa, Asia and Latin America into this fascinating overview:

1.Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluation: global context

2.SEIE: definitions and methods

3.Case studies: findings from post-project evaluations

4.Designing an SEIE: Considerations

5.Q&A — which fostered super comments, but since you couldn't come, please tell us what you think and what questions you have…

 

There are amazing lessons to learn about design, implementation, M&E from doing post-project evaluation.  We have also grown in appreciating that sustainability can be tracked throughout the project cycle, not just during post-project SEIE evaluation.

cycle-evaluation-redesigned-b3

 

We'll be building this into a white paper or a … (toolkit? webinar series? training? something else?). What's your vote ___? (I know in this US election season, so… :)). 

 

What would you like to get to support your learning about Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluations? Look forward to hearing from you- Jindra@ValuingVoices.com

Enjoy!

Towards responsible donor exiting strategies and practices: Reblog from Tshikululu

Posted by on Oct 8, 2016 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Donors, Exit strategies, Social Investment, South Africa, Sustainability, Sustainable development | 0 comments

I am delighted to repost the blog on Responsible Donor Exit from Tshikululu, a Social Investment advisory firm in South Africa that I met at the European Evaluation Society conference last week in Holland.  The short report outlines different choices of Phase down, Phase out, or Phase over.  As we in foreign aid evaluation have noted, donors should have set criteria for engaging with grantees to facilitate the transition and exit from programs, including exit plans and designing exit in from the beginning. What this report adds is open communication and joint agreements on timelines, exit grants and post-exit ‘scans’ that may foster further partnerships.  Especially pleased to see them recommending “programme beneficiaries should therefore be empowered to direct the development processes that affect them.” Enjoy…

 

Towards responsible donor exiting strategies and practices

  • 10 May 2016 | Silvester Hwenha|

Social investment has evolved as the result of a number of factors, including a growing interest by high net worth individuals and institutional investors in tackling social issues at the local, national or global level. Social investors have also become increasingly relevant in many countries as a result of mounting social challenges amid declining public funds to provide social services. The rationale for social investment is based on the realisation that social or environmental factors can impact a company’s bottom line and therefore are important factors in business. Besides, it has long been acknowledged by civic society and business that government alone cannot confront and solve all of society’s problems.

 

 

Social investors typically channel their funds through non-profit entities including non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community based organisations (CBOs) to deliver social and environmental programmes in communities where such programmes are required. However, while social challenges require long term interventions to address, social investments often support programmes in short funding cycles. In many instances social investment funds are redirected to other social challenges thus necessitating exiting of programmes.


Exiting programmes is usually a highly sensitive and difficult process for donors, grantees and beneficiaries. For most donors, the reasons for exiting programmes include changing priorities and/or leadership, dwindling resources and the potential threat on programmes by the emergence of political instability. Despite having legitimate cause to exit programmes, donor agencies, foundations, trusts and corporate donors often do so with little advance notice, communication and consultation with programme partners.

Report: http://www.tshikululu.org.za/insights-opinions/entry/towards-responsible-donor-exiting-strategies-and-practices 

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