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Implementing organizations could be fearful to see what remains once funding and technical assistance are withdrawn, but such a view not only robs our industry of exciting lessons on what did change and was so valued that it was sustained, but also what to not do again.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?
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
* 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".
* 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.”
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
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 country-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
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.
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
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.
Sustaining projects during and after Implementation: Does gender count?
Rutere Kagendo from Ronto Research and Valuing Voices
Gender as a concept is one of the many kinds of indicators of change measured in development projects. However, like many others, its reporting in many cases is limited to the number of women and men participating in the project. Whereas participation by gender is an important variable in measuring community engagement and inclusiveness in a project, this measure is more focused at the registration level and the mere fact that women’s or men’s names appear in the registers. However, numbers only are not a clear indicator of participation and the extent to which it happens.
Gender reporting, as shown above, can be too simplified. There is also ongoing misunderstanding surrounding gender, which only separates genders and omits a gendered analysis that would help understand the relationships between men and women, boys and girls within the dynamics of a project. This can include differentiated decisions about how resources are allocated within household expenditures (e.g. women overseeing food consumption, health and children's expenses versus men overseeing large investments into livelihoods) and division of labor (e.g. men ploughing and planting fields and women weeding and conserving crops leading to a family harvest). Gender negotiations are richer than numbers of men and women participating in projects.
As we consider the various stages of a project, starting from design, implementation to evaluation and sustainability, it is critical to assess the role of gender in each of these stages. It is obvious that women and men play important roles in projects but what is not clear is how these roles build, complement and sustain the project. The questions that come into mind after interacting with communities during project evaluations (mid, endline, impact and sustainability) are:
How do the various roles played by both men and women, and their interaction with each other shape the outcome of a project?
Does gender contribute to project sustainability?
These are important questions that need to be answered through more research and writing but there are early insights I have learned:
1. Resilience in roles during the project life cycle
Studies highlighting the roles played by both women and men in projects shed light on how gender shapes project outcomes. I once attended a dairy project launch exercise in Kenya, my home country, and was surprised by what I saw. All the men sat at the front and the women took a back seat with their young children. The women remained silent the entire time the meeting was held, and efforts to involve them were unsuccessful. I later learned that in that community, women do not share their views in the presence of men. However, I left with one question in my mind, how will this project succeed if only one party is going to be talking and making decisions? Was there no mechanism for women to share their views as well? Is it not going to become a project that benefits men only? Years later, I got an opportunity to evaluate the project. I held both men and women focused group discussions separately. I found that firstly, men may be the gatekeepers but may not necessarily have the resilience needed to push through the whole project cycle. For example in this particular project, men did not continuously stay with the project, as noted by one female group participant:
“When this project started, we were both men and women. However, men decided to pull out because they thought milk was a women’s commodity and there was no money [to be made] in it. The women got organized in groups and started selling the milk in bulk. We made money and within no time, the men came back and took over the milk business. If we women had not stayed in the project, the milk business would not have been realized although we lost it to the men”. In another dairy-related project elsewhere, the men were the cattle and milk owners so they sold all the milk. But during a season when the market was flooded with milk (milk glut), the men abandoned the milk business. The women took it up and tried to sell the milk whenever possible until the milk glut’ season passed, only for the men to get back to the milk business again.
Whether it is a good idea or not for men to have taken the milk business away from women in both of these cases is subject for discussion, but the main issue here is the role played by the women to sustain the project long enough to grow it from an idea and push it into a viable business that attracted the men back into the project. Indeed one wonders if the project would have grown if the women had not remained in the project. Cekan Consulting found the same in an all-women and highly successful sesame seed production Catholic Relief Services project in the Gambia. Women had grown the communal agribusiness from microenterprise size to being so successful that they became of interest to local banks. At that point, men in the communities began to take the project, and savings, over. Valuing Voices has documented savings and loans sustained post-project, and even scaled up by women in several countries.
Also thinking about the initial community entry meetings and seeing how unengaged and distant the women appeared, one would have dismissed their role in the project. As it turned out, they became the engine of this project. Surface impressions may not hold true.
2. Saving the project for whose benefit?
In another project, community members were encouraged and supported to start savings and lending groups to run their small businesses. The qualitative discussions in the final evaluation revealed that at the end of the project, it was perceived as more of a women’s project in spite of being targeted to men. This is because almost all the men had left the project after taking loans and failing to repay. The women, especially those whose spouses had taken the loans took over the burden of repaying the loans which saved the project.
Borrowing from these examples one is tempted to ask, what happens in those projects that target men only or where women get demoralized and leave? Do they fail at a higher rate altogether than those that include women? Arguing along these lines one would ask, what are the driving forces for men and women to remain or quit from project activities and how has this been addressed so far in project designs?
In most of the evaluation projects Ronto Research has conducted around Africa, men may take a lead in project implementation depending on their expected quick/ shorter-term gains/ expectations which determine whether they remain active or not. On the other hand, women seem to get into projects with a determined resolve to see their problems solved, no matter how long it takes. As a result, they hold onto the project activities despite the challenges that come along. It is observable though, that as they progress and begin to take hold and show signs of success, the men get attracted back.
In most of the project evaluations I have participated in, there are always few men who are loyal and remain part and parcel of the project. Pivotally, we also need to understand the role of these few men who have remained in these projects with the women the whole time. This can be either because they hold positions or just because they believed in the projects and they support the women with ideas or just their mere presence in the project activities. These men seem to play a critical role in encouraging the women to push on. Their role cannot be ignored and there is need to understand them better in terms of their opinions. Why do they remain with the women even when there seems to be few benefits forthcoming to them, whereas their fellow men pull out? In an interview with women in Tanzania on an agricultural project, some women felt that the few men who had been left in their group were very instrumental in their achievements by giving the project an identity in as far as it being a community and not a ‘women-only’ project was concerned.
3. Gender- Informing evaluation
Thirdly, while conducting evaluation interviews, gender counts. Typically, women and men are asked about results in gender-specific groups. At the household level, the preferred interviewee is the household head. In most cases, they would be the direct ‘beneficiaries’ (participants) of the project information on behalf of their households. Due to the cultural set-ups in much of Africa, in married families men are automatically the household head, which would mean they would be the target interviewees. However, our experience during interviews either through Focus Group Discussions or on a one-on-one situation is that consulting with women as well as considering differentiated gender roles and gender relations are key missing ingredients. For often during interviews, the men end up involving their spouses for details about projects, in part because men might not consistently follow up the project activities and therefore might not have all the details.
There is also a possibility that although it is the men who are registered as participants, in actual sense it is the women who participate and therefore have the detailed information about some issues being discussed, so it is important to check who is the actual ‘information bank’ (and day-to-day participant) of the household for the project. This issue needs to be explored in-depth both in regular project evaluation and more needs to be learned about how this can be used to inform sustainability studies. Asking only men or only women may limit evaluative learning.
4. Sustaining results – which gender is best?
What can we learn from the projects that have been completed so far years after they close out? When projects come to an end, communities are left to experience and foster the project impacts on their own. They learn a lot on their own post-project and this could be an important source of information on sustainability, but what mechanisms can be put in place for these ‘information banks’ to share the information long after projects end? They may be the only key informants that remain (as partners may have long-gone onto other projects far away); before the knowledge they hold that can be eroded with time. It would be interesting to compare the information held by men and women about outcomes and impacts being sustained, stopped or new ones emerging. The question on information especially related to project sustainability is going to be very critical considering that most of this information has to be sought from community member post project period.
Does gender play a role in holding a project together/implementation? What role does gender play in project sustainability?
A few resources:
UN on Gender Mainstreaming: https://cursos.campusvirtualsp.org/pluginfile.php/31817/mod_resource/content/3/Guide%20%20Module%204%20%20REV%208.15.pdf
UN and Gender for Sustainable Development resources: http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_c/mod12.html
Gender and Evaluation: http://gendereval.ning.com/?xg_source=msg_mes_network by fellow Valuing Voices’ team member Rituu
Finally, an ActionAid advocacy pitch for women farmers and aid transparency
Maximizing what we've got… Time is now!
We had a stirring conversation here in D.C. with someone very knowledgeable about sustainability; this person is a strong proponent of local ownership of all development. They also said vehemently, why evaluate the sustainability of projects after closeout; we all know what that will show! What was implied is that our system of international development and aid is so flawed, so broken, that the inevitable result of not focusing on local ownership as the fundamental basis for our work means Nothing. Will. Be. Left…. All. Is. Lost.
We disagree. Our development industry does some good, some bad, and is ever-changing (albeit slowly). Billions of dollars each year are spent trying to improve people's lives and livelihoods around the world, and we've seen great good be done. While. We. Remain.
We know far, far less about what remains after our projects end because less than 1% of the time we return post-project (ex-post) to evaluate anything.
Our problem with time begins with fixed timelines within projects that say we have 1, 3, 5 years to get to success. They work with participants and partners who need to make substantial changes to how they use their resources and beliefs over a relatively short time of a few months to a few years. We expect immediate results from them, changing how they farm (use new seeds, new methods, new ways of interacting with markets) and save money (learn new concepts of profit and interest, repayment and re-lending), and improve their health and that of their families (get prenatal exams, vaccinate your children, exclusively breastfeed without adding water or tea). Everyone in our projects is 'on the clock' from the donor and implementer to partners and participants. This clock ticks down irrevocably as project closeout looms, promised-successes-to-donors at hand or a mirage in the distance. We assume sustained results.
How many of us have ever gone on a diet? How many have learned a new language? How many of us have transferred jobs and had to learn new skills on the job? How quickly have we managed to do all that successfully, all at once?! Probably many. How many of you have had to do this on a fixed timeline? Were you successful when there was a limited, fixed time and you did not set your own pace?
It takes time to implement projects well enough to ensure that most participants ‘got it’, not just the 'early adopters'. It takes time to hand over projects so well that our partners and participants are ready to take over at least some of what we worked so hard to transfer. It took leadership and staff two years in the very successful participatory USAID/ Food For Peace food security project by CRS Niger that was a continuation of similar programming for 15 years. It also takes time to pass for conditions to be ready for our return, to isolate what people could self-sustain from what the project supplied, to learn what was so well designed and implemented during projects that to 'took root' in people's lives, that they have made it their own. We estimate optimal evaluation time is 2-7 years after closeout. Valuing Voices also believes we should not just evaluate the sustainability of outputs and outcomes of what we put in place that we thought they would continue, and the sustained impact of those cumulative investments, but also the emerging, unintended new activities and impacts we never imagined people would innovate from our projects. We are doing just such evaluations in Zimbabwe and Uganda now and hope to do and catalyze much more fieldwork around the world.
And why does it matter? Why shouldn't we write off our time-limited donor-funded projects? Because:
1) It's all we've got. Our current development system is not going anywhere soon, and there is success to learn from.
2) We need to quickly learn from what worked sustainably best and stop wasting time and resources on what we refuse to admit fails because we are too scared to return to see. Go back with the intention to learn what does and focus on doing more of what works.
3) Such analysis – and design of new projects – must have country ownership as a centerpiece throughout the project cycle assumptions, but to throw out decades of good work simply because we are just learning the value of country ownership is foolish.
Finally, here's a lovely example from Brazil of how local, participation (and yes, as my colleague thought, local ownership) works best. And. It. Takes. Time.
"Our results also show that Participatory Budgeting’s influence strengthens over time… Participatory Budgeting’s increasing impact indicates that governments, citizens, and civil society organizations are building new institutions… cities incorporate citizens at multiple moments of the policy process, allowing community leaders and public officials to exchange better information." How often do we return to do what are called longitudinal reviews of our work abroad, using the same rigorous standards we evaluate our domestic projects? Not often. Shouldn't that change?
Only by working together, honoring the value of our participants, that they deserve the same chance at change that we take for granted will things change. We must value both the voices of our participants and our own expertise for development to improve for true aid effectiveness…. Let us begin anew!
This blog post by Jindra Cekan and Laurie Zivetz of Valuing Voices discusses the need for post-project impact evaluations. An area that needs more attention, BetterEvaluation will be working with Valuing Voices over the next couple of months to expand the available information and resources for this type of evaluation.
The question of what is impact is one that has been coming up again and again recently. Simon Hearn’s recent blog on BetterEvaluation (and his accompanyingMethods Lab paper) began unravelling the many ways we use the term. Simon notes that in addition to the range of definitions of impact, our industry has a growing appetite to demonstrate the impact of our international development projects with evidence. In a blog post last year, Developing a Research Agenda for Impact Evaluation, Patricia Rogers and Greet Peersman note that current impact evaluations tend to look “only at relatively short-term, intended direct effects” and attention to unintended or unexpected (emerging) impacts of our projects remains undeveloped. While organisations such as 3ie and J-Pal have risen to prominence for their work on impact evaluation, the different views surrounding what constitutes a sustained impact in these organisations are important (read the Valuing Voices blog post on the differences between our definition and theirs, and the implications of this).
The preoccupation with short-term impacts represents a serious gap in evaluation practice, theory and design. Returning 2-10 years post-project offers an opportunity to assess whether improvements- such as those in organisational efficiencies, community infrastructure, knowledge, behaviour change, livelihoods- that may have been planned and shown at the end of the project cycle, actually endured. It also provides a chance to understand whether other unintended impacts emerged over time as a result of a project or program or participants’ efforts in the intervening years after the project ended. How can we claim we are doing “sustainable development” if we do not return to assess sustainability that we either envisioned or that emerged from people’s own efforts?
This gap presents serious challenges to our ability to be genuinely accountable or to learn and improve – also fundamental to effectively meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that funding, doing and learning from Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluations (SEIE) needs to become a standard part of the program cycle. This is key to doing sustainable development. Building an evidence base and generating lessons across projects and sectors, and from design to implementation, monitoring to evaluation promise benefits in terms of better design and implementation of projects, more robust, accountable partnerships, and a path to foster true country ownership.
The numbers are staggering. The OECD tells us that over $5 trillion in foreign aid has been given since 1970 (excluding private donations). Over $1.5 trillion of that has been given by the EU and USAID since 2000 alone and even last year $137 billion was spent worldwide. At Valuing Voices, we have reviewed hundreds of documents tagged as ‘post-project’ and ‘ex-post’ evaluation from nearly 30 international development and implementer organisations. Most of these documents only suggest that such evaluations be done; a few are desk studies. Only a handful (some 1% of all projects actually evaluated) have actually returned to the field post-project, and systematically asked participants and partners what they had sustained themselves 2-10 years after the project ended. Even fewer of these have delved into why some outcomes were sustained, and asked questions about what other impacts or innovations emerged. It seems that much of the ‘sustainability’ focus is on the continuation of funding for projects, rather than assessing impact, and including the efforts and hopes of our stakeholders. Curiosity about what might be done better seems to stop at the end of the resourced project cycle.
Valuing Voices Full-Cycle Development
The 19 organisations that we have found that have done one or more such evaluations deserve to be strongly celebrated as catalytic learning organisations. They are at the vanguard of redefining ‘success’ through our participants’ and partners‘ eyes and improving our programming accordingly. We have piloted this approach in a number of post-project sustained impact evaluations that found important lessons for design with follow-on funding as well as for monitoring and implementation. We have documented the tip of the sustained impact iceberg, including an excellent study by USAID that highlighted four essential elements for successful exit (resources, capacity, linkages and motivation). We discuss some of the assumptions many of us make about barriers to doing more such evaluations, Including needed improvements to our M&E systems, how to forge stronger partnerships and country ownership.
We ask you to join Valuing Voices and BetterEvaluation in advocating creating new success measure in international development: sustained and emerging impact evaluations. We ask you to fund and do these SEIEs and share them for inclusion in our database. Such learning should not only be standard in our industry, but the lessons from them to be a globally available resource. We envision creating regional centres of analysis of learning and country-ownership, with data available long after any project ends. We ask you to help us put participant feedback at the centre of all of our work so we can better learn about sustained and emerging impact, foster design for success, implement for national ownership of projects long after we are gone. That is why we do what we do, isn’t it?
Have you been involved in a post-project evaluation of sustained and emerging impacts? Or do you know of any good examples or have some advice on conducting one? Let us know in the comments below or send us a message! We’ll be developing a new BetterEvaluation option for this over the coming months so your comments and examples will help contribute to this.
PARTICIPATION BY ALL: The Key To Sustainability of CRS/ Niger’s Food Security Project
Valuing Voices is delighted to share our sustainability evaluation of Catholic Relief Service Niger’s PROSAN project. This project that ran from 2006-2012 in Niger and was implemented by three NGOs: CRS, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), and Helen Keller International (HKI) under the direction of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Food for Peace (FFP) as a multi-year assistance program (MYAP) to support food security activities in the Dosso, Tahoua, and Zinder regions. PROSAN focused on increasing agricultural production and agro-enterprise, improving household health and nutrition status, reinforcing the capacities of health agents, and enhancing community resiliency.
Here are the highlights from the report which itself is an excerpt from a longer analysis we did. Also please note one Annex highlights the similarlties/ differences we found to USAID/ FFP's 4 elements of sustainability:
AIM, METHODS, AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The aim of this sustainability evaluation was to explore perceptions of sustainability from Nigeriens involved in PROSAN, former CRS staff and donors. It focused on evaluating participants’ adherence to project outcomes and their creation of new innovations. It also evaluated partners’ involvement in sustaining project outcomes.
This evaluation used qualitative and quantitative methods including community mapping, focus group discussions, beneficiary interviews, and key stakeholder interviews. The evaluation was carried out in six communities in the Dosso region, with more than 500 interviewees, focusing on the following research questions:
1. Sustainability of activities and groups: Are the communities sustaining the activities three to five years after the end of the project? What can we learn from the communities and their post-project implementation partners?
2. Spread and unexpected outcomes: If the project was considered a success in the eyes of the community, how well did it spread?
3. Fostering Sustainability: What are the long-term prospects for continued sustainability?
Three years after PROSAN’s conclusion, the project was considered a success by community members, national partners, the implementer (CRS), and donor (USAID) staff. The main findings include:
1. SUSTAINABILITY OF ACTIVITIES AND GROUPS
Eighty percent (80%) of all activities were reported to have become self-sustained and community innovations have emerged:
• On average, households reported moving from being food secure for 3-6 months per year during PROSAN to 8-12 months at the time of this evaluation, which is a remarkable impact.
• Women reported greater income through the increase in sales of food that was produced and processed due to the grain mills.
• Respondents also reported improved household health, hygiene, and nutrition, with 91% of survey respondents indicating that their health and sense of well being had improved, especially through the efforts of the health posts and clinics that CRS helped build and the government of Niger’s efforts in sustaining them with resources and staff.
Community groups/committees have continued and are well-supported by NGO partners:
• 81% of the committees set up by PROSAN were functioning at the time of this evaluation, with many participants discussing ways to sustain best practices within their communities, and members still receiving regular trainings or updates.
• Several new and refresher trainings come through national partners, NGOs, and new channels such as radio programs.
• Some new NGOs and international organizations have built upon PROSAN’s success, for instance, by using land previously managed by PROSAN for a new vegetable gardening training program, building hygiene programs on past health awareness efforts, or extending agricultural credit for further inputs.
Twenty percent (20%) of implemented activities were not sustained or have stagnated:
• While hygiene practices were sustained by households and there was widespread latrine construction, sanitation was poor in the villages, and most latrines had fallen into disrepair.
• Fewer than 50% of women reported practicing exclusive breastfeeding for children less than six months of age.
• While almost half of all health committees no longer exist, new health clinics staff have replaced some of the work of the committees with health and agricultural promotion messages now being sent via radio, television, and cell phones.
• Literacy training and theater groups have completely ceased.
• With the exception of the Système Communautaire d’Alerte Précoce-Réponses aux Urgences’ (SCAP-RU) SCAP-RU early warning system which has expanded, other resilience activities such as roadwork and caring for the environment are a lesser priority due in part to the lack of food and cash-incentives to continue doing them.
2. SPREAD AND UNEXPECTED OUTCOMES
New innovations and ceased activities reflected the project’s legacy:
• Community innovations have emerged such as collective funds paying for cleaners of the new health center, community-imposed sanctions for births occurring outside of the health centers, and the monitoring of savings from well water sales.
• National partners have praised the project, with many lamenting its withdrawal. One non-PROSAN village told an Agriculture Ministry staff and potential NGO partner that “No one should bring a program here unless it is like PROSAN.”
• PROSAN-trained masons, well repair technicians, and village youth have learned land recuperation techniques (zai holes, bunds and demi-lunes) that helped generate income beyond project communities.
• Project activities that received free inputs have largely stopped being implemented once the incentives were withdrawn such as Food for Training (FFT), Food for Work (FFW), or Cash for Work (CFW) (e.g. literacy, seedlings, latrines, theater etc.); nonetheless the inputs were highly valued and have continued to support agriculture and health (carts, bicycles).
3. FOSTERING SUSTAINABILITY
The following areas were identified as potential barriers to sustainability that could be systematically explored in other projects:
• Although most committees are still functioning, there are no processes in place to engage and train youth and new inhabitants of the villages.
• While village communities have been maintained, there is an increasing lack of ministry resources (e.g., staff, transportation, and communications) to take the place of NGOs like CRS after a program ends.
• There is little management of knowledge around project data, which is further exacerbated by staff changes in NGOs, government ministries, and donors. Project data (proposal content, monitoring data, evaluation results, participant lists, partner names, and exit agreements) must be managed ethically, locally and be held online, accessible for future projects to use and for villages to conduct self-evaluations.
 Percentages were calculated as a combination of the number of activities that had been continued and the percentage of participants which continued them.
What happens after the project ends? Lessons about Funding, Assumptions and Fears (Part 3)
In part 1 and part 2 of this blog, we showcased 11 of the 18 organizations that have done post-project evaluations. While this was scratching the surface of all that is to be learned, we shared a few insights on How we do it Matters, Expect Unexpected Results and Country-national Ownership. We gained some champions in this process of sharing our findings, including Professor Zenda Ofir of South Africa, who said “we cannot claim to have had success in development interventions if the outcomes and/or impacts are not durable, or at least have a chance to sustain or endure."
In this third blog of Lessons Learned from What Happens After the Project Ends, we turn to some of the curious factors that hold us back from undertaking more post project evaluations: Funding, Assumptions, and Fears.
Why haven’t we gone back? For the last 2+years Valuing Voices has been researching the issue, we have heard from colleagues: ‘we would love to evaluate post-project but we don’t have any money, ‘donors don’t fund this’, ‘it is too expensive’. Funding currently from bilateral donors such as USAID is given in 1-5 year tranches with fixed terms for completion of results and learning from them and one-year close-out processes. Much of the canon of evaluations conducted after close out that we amassed was from international NGOs that had used their private funds to evaluate large donor-funded projects for their own learning. Many aimed also to show leadership in sustainability and admittedly dazzle their funders – join them!.
We fund capacity building during projects but if we do not return to evaluate how well we have supported our partners and communities to translate this to sustainability, then we fall short. Meetings convened by INTRAC on civil society sustainability are opening new doors for joint learning about factors such as “legitimacy… leadership, purpose, values, and structures” within organizations well beyond any project’s end. The OECD’s DAC criteria for evaluating development assistance define sustainability as: “concerned with measuring whether the benefits of an activity are likely to continue after donor funding has been withdrawn. Projects need to be environmentally as well as financially sustainable.“ We need to extend our view beyond typical criterion for sustainability being a focus primarily on continued funding.
We need funding to explore whether certain sectors lend themselves to sustainability. In addition to the cases in blog 1, a study by CARE/ OXFAM/ PACT on Cambodian Savings groups finds that we have some revisions to make on how we design and implement with communities to foster sustainability in this sector which typically promises greater sustainability because capital can be recycled. Valuing Voices blogs show indications that once we amass a greater range of post-project evaluations (funders unite), the insights gleaned can illuminate cost efficient paths to more sustained programming, possibly leading to revisions in programming or interventions which have greater likelihood for country-ownership
Extend the program cycle to include post-project sustainability evaluation. Rare are donors such as the Australian government (forthcoming) and USAID’s Food For Peace that commission such studies. Rare is the initiative such as 3ie that has research funds allocated by major donors to explore an aspect of impact. We miss out on key opportunities to learn from the past for improved project design if we do not return to learn how sustained our outcomes and impacts have been. We miss learning how we could better implement so more national partners could take on the task of sustaining the changes we catalyzed.
We call on donors to fund a research initiative to comprehensively review sustainability evaluations.
We call on governments to ask for this in their discussion with donors.
We call on implementers to invest in such learning to improve the quality of implementation today and sustained impact in the years to come.
Development assistance makes many assumptions about what happens after projects end in terms of people’s self-sufficiency, partners’ capacity to continue to support activities, and projects’ financial independence and people’s ability to step into the shoes of donors and carry on. Unless we take a hard look at our assumptions, we will not move from proving what we expect to learning what is actually there.
Among them are these six assumptions:
All will be well once we exit; we have implemented so well that of course national participants and partners will be ready and able to carry on without us. We may assume the only important outcomes and impacts are within our Logical Frameworks and Theories of Change. Thus there is no need to return to explore unexpected negative ones, or ways in which the people we strengthened may have innovated in unexpectedly wonderful ways. Aysel Vazirova, a fellow international consultant wrote me: “Post-project evaluations provide data for a deeper analysis of sustainability and help to appreciate numerous avenues taken by the beneficiaries in incorporating development projects into their lives. The theory of change narratives presented by a majority of development programs and projects have a rather disturbing resemblance to the structure of magic tales: (from) Lack – (to) change – (to) happy ending. Post project evaluations have a power to change a rigid structure of this narrative.”
We assume evaluations are often used to inform new designs, yet dozens of colleagues have lamented that too often this does not happen in the race to new project design. But there is hope. World Wildlife Fund/UK M&E expert Clare Crawford says when following its new management standards, WWF “expects to see the recommendations of an evaluation before the next phase of design can happen (hence evaluations happen a little before the end of a strategic period). WWF-UK, when reading new program plans is mandated to verify if – and how – the recommendations of the last evaluation(s) were made use of in the new design phase. Equally we track management responses to evaluations to see how learning has been applied in current or in future work." Such a link across the program cycle is not common in our experience and none of the post-project sustained impact evaluations we reviewed said how learning would be used.
We may assume data continues accessible from the projects we have evaluated, yet our team member Siobhan Green has found that until recently, with the move toward open data, often project data remains the province of the donors and implementers and to the best of our knowledge leaves the country when projects close. While some sectoral data such as health and education data remains local, we are finding in fieldwork that household level data has been rolled up or discarded once projects close, which makes interviews difficult.
We may assume that the participants and partners are not able to evaluate projects, particularly after the fact. Being vulnerable does not mean that people are not able to share insights or assess how projects helped or not. Methods such as empowerment evaluation and evaluative thinking are powerful supports.
Some may assume that the situation has changed in the intervening years, that there is no benefit in returning to see what results remain. Change is inevitable and sometimes more rapid or dramatic than others. But does that mean we shouldn’t want to understand what happened? This is the greatest disservice of all, for we are selling “sustainable development” so how well have we designed it to be so?
We assume that learning for our own benefit is enough. A potential client brought me in to discuss my working on a rare post-project evaluation last year. It was to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and while would occur in several countries. What I discovered was that while the donor really wanted to learn what results remained more than a decade on, I asked ‘how would the countries themselves benefit from this research and findings?’ There was a long silence. Turns out, nothing from the research would benefit or even remain in country. No one had considered the learning needs of the countries themselves. This simply cannot continue if we are to be accountable to those we serve.
This may be the greatest barrier of all to returning to assess sustainability.
We assume our projects continue. We may be afraid to look for what will this tell us about the sustainability of our efforts to save lives and livelihoods so we only choose to publicly study what is successful. Valuing Voices has found that across most the post project studies there is some ‘selection bias’, as we repeatedly learned in our research from colleagues that organizations choose to evaluate projects that are most likely to be successfully sustained. For instance, USAID Food For Peace’ study notes, “The countries included in this study—Bolivia, Honduras, India, and Kenya—were also chosen because of their attention to sustainability and exit.” Yet as an Appreciative Inquiry practitioner, I would argue that learning what worked best to know what to do more of may be the best way forward.
All too often the choice of evaluation design, and sensitivity to findings fly in the face of learning—particularly when findings are negative. This raises fears around a discontinuation of funding (an implementer fear; a beneficiary fear; could also be a recipient government’s fear). Yet as Bill Gates says, “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
Participants asked during the project cycle about interventions may be fearful of truth telling because of perceived vulnerabilities around promised future resources, local power imbalances in control over resources, or even political imperatives to adopt a particular position. Alternatively we may not believe them, thinking they may not tell us the truth were that to stop resources.
Those are ours.
Peter Kimeu, my wise advisor and 20-year friend and colleague from Kenya tells us some fears of the that we need to listen to – those that haunt our national partners and participants.
They are afraid we do not see their real desires:
“It is ‘not how many have you (the NGO) fed, but how many of us have the capability to feed ourselves and our community?’
‘How can we (country national) support our fellow citizens to take our lives and livelihoods into our own hands and excel, sustainably?’
‘What is sustainability if it isn’t expanded opportunities, Isn’t the capability of one to make a choice of value/quality life out of the many choices that the opportunities present?”
Will you help us address these challenges? Will you join us in advocating filling the gap in the program cycle, and looking beyond it to how we design and implement with country nationals? Will you, in your own work foster their ownership throughout and beyond? We need to fund learning from sustained impact to transparently discuss assumptions and face our fears. This is a sustained purpose we need to and can fill.
 It does not have to be. We have done these evaluations for under $170,000, all-inclusive.