Grow the .002% of all global development projects that are evaluated ex-post closure for sustainability

Grow the .002% of all global development projects that are evaluated ex-post closure for sustainability

It seems like ‘fake news’ that after decades of global development so few evaluations would have peered back in time to see what was sustained. While I was consulting to the Policy Planning and Learning Bureau at USAID, I asked the head of this M&E department who does ex-post sustainability evaluation as I knew USAID had done some in the 1980s, Cindy Clapp-Wincek answered ‘No one, there are no incentives to do it.’ (She later became our advisor.)

Disbelieving, I did a year of secondary keyword research before devoting my professional consulting life to advocating for and doing ex-post evaluations of sustained outcomes and impacts. I searched USAID, OECD, and other bilateral and later multilateral donors’ databases and found thousands of studies, most of which were inaccurately named ‘ex-post’ or ‘post-closure’ studies.  Some of the roughly 1,000 projects I looked at at USAID and OECD that came up under ‘ex-post’, ‘ex post’, ‘post closure’ were final evaluations that were slightly delayed, a few were evaluations that were at least one year after closure, but were desk studies without interviews. Surprisingly, the vast majority of final evaluations found were those that only recommended ex-post evaluation several years later to confirm projected sustainability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2016 at the American Evaluation Association conference, a group of us did a presentation. In it, I cited these statistics from of 1st year of Valuing Voices’ research:

  • Of 900+ “ex-post” “ex post” “post closure” documents in USAID’s DEC database, there were only 12 actual post-project evaluations with fieldwork have been done in the last 20 years
  • Of 12,000 World Bank projects – only 33 post-project evaluations asked ‘stakeholders’ for input, and only 3 showed clearly they talked to participants
  • In 2010 Asian Development Bank conducted 491 desk reviews of completed projects, and returned to 18 actual field-based post-project evaluations that included participant voices; they have done only this 1 study.
  • We found no evaluations by recipient governments of aid projects’ sustainability

12 years of research, advocacy and fieldwork later, the ‘catalysts’ database on Valuing Voices now shows actual fieldwork-informed evaluations by 40 organizations that had actual ex-posts that returned to the field to ask participants and project partners what was sustained, highlighting 92 ex-posts.

How many ex-post project closure evaluations have been done? .002% of all projects. The 0.002% statistic looks at just public foreign development aid from 1960 (not even counting private funding such as foundations or gifts to organizations, which isn’t tracked in any publicly available database). Calculating aggregated OECD aid statistics (excluding private because it’s only recent data) over 62 years $5.6 trillion by 2022 (thanks to Rebecca Regan-Sachs for the updated #s).

I then estimated 3.000 actual ex-posts which comes from 2,500 JICA projects plus almost 500 other projects that I have either found looking through databases all across the spectrum from governments and multilaterals (almost 100 in our catalysts, and am assuming there must be 400 others done in the 1980s-2000 like USAID and the World Bank).

Without a huge research team it is improssible to aggregate data on the total number of projects by all donors. So I extrapolated from project activity disbursements of one year (2022) for Mali on the www.foreignassistance.gov page. In my 35 years of experience, Mali, where I did my doctoral research, typifies he average USAID aid recipient. They had 382 projects going in 2022. I rounded up to 400 projects x 70 years (since 1960 when OECD data began) x 100 countries by just one donor (of the 150 possible recipient countries, to be conservative). This comes to 2.8 million projects. So if we take 39 OECD countries as donors (given most have far less to give than US), in total 109 million publicly funded aid projects disbursed $5.6 trillion since 1960. While final evaluations are industry standard, only .002% is the estimated number of ex-post evaluations of projects the were evaluated with data from local participants and partners of the 109 million projects .

This became Valuing Voices focus, and we created an open-access database for learning, and conducted our own  My team and I identified 92 ex-posts that returned to ask locals what lasted, what didn’t, why, and what emerged from their own efforts. We also created evaluability checklists and created a new evaluation, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation that included examining not just what donors put in place to last, but also what emerged outcomes from local efforts to sustain results with more limited resources, partnerships, capacities and local ownership/motivation. These four drivers were found by Rogers and Coates for USAID’s food security exit study in 2015). We have done 15 ex-posts for 9 clients since 2006 and shared Adaptation Fund ex-post training materials in 2023.

 

Yet the public assumes we know our development is sustainable. 2015’s ‘Sustainable Development Goals‘ focused aid on 17 themes, which was to generate $12 trillion more in annual spending on SDG sectors than the;$21 trillion already being invested each year. Nonetheless, a recent UN report states that there is now a $4 trillion annual financing gap to achieve the SDGs. All this funding goes to projects that are currently implemented, not to evaluate what had been sustained from past projects that already closed. Such learning from what succeeded or failed, or what emerged from local efforts to keep activities and results going is pivotal to improving current and future programming is almost wholly missing from the dialogue; I know, I asked multiple SDG evaluation experts.

 

Why do we return to learn so rarely? There are many reasons, the most prosaic among them being administrative.

  • When aid funds are spent over 2-10 years, projects are closed, evaluated at the end, ‘handed over’ to national governments, and no additional funding exists to return ‘ex-post’ closure to learn.
  • Next is the push to continue to improve lives through implementation which means low rates of overhead allocated to M&E and learning during, much less after closure.
  • Another is the assumption that ‘old’ projects differ so much from new ones, but there are few differences. After all there are only so many ways to grow food, feed the malnourished, educate children; evaluating ‘old’ projects can teach ‘new’ projects.
  • A last major one, from Valuing Voices’ research of 12 years may be the largest: Fear of admitting failure. Please read Valuing Voices’ 2016 blog highlighted many Lessons about Funding, Assumptions and Fears (Part 3). One US aid lobbyist told me in 2017 that I must not share this lack of learning about sustained impacts because it could imperil US aid funding; I told her I had to tell people because lives were at stake.
  • Overall, there is much to learn; most ex-post evaluations show mixed results. None show 100% sustainability and while most show 30-60% sustainability, none are 0% sustained either. If we don’t learn to replicate what worked and cease what didn’t now, then future programming will be as flawed and successes, especially brilliant emerging locally designed ex-post outcomes such as Niger’s local funding of redesign of health incentives will remain hidden.

 

Occasionally donors invest in sets of ex-post learning evaluations such as USAID’s ‘global waters’ seven water/ sanitation evaluations linked to the E3 Bureau taking sustainability as a strategic goal. Yet the overall findings from USAID’s own staff of these ex-posts Drivers of WASH study were chilling. While 25 million gained access to drinking water and 18 million to basic sanitation, ‘they have largely not endured.’ But the good news in such research is that the donor learned that infrastructure fails when spare parts are not accessible and maintenance not funded or performed, which can be planned for and addressed during implementation by investing in resources and partnerships. They learned that relying on volunteers is unreliable and management needs to be bolstered, which can lead to some implementation funding to be focused on capacities and local ownership. We can plan better for sustainability by learning from ex-post and exit studies (see Valuing Voices’ checklists in this 2023 article on Fostering Values-Driven Sustainability).

 

And since 2019, three climate funds, the Adaptation Fund, the Global Environmental Facility, and the Climate Investment Funds have turned to ex-post evaluations to look at sustainability and longer-term resilience and even transformation, given environmental shocks may take years to affect the project sites. The Adaptation Fund has done four ex-posts, with more to come in 2024/25, and the CIF is beginning now. The GEF has done a Post-Completion Assessment Pilot for the Yellow Sea Region . Hopeful!

Trust is both a belief and a bond: Why is Trust for outsiders declining in communities? (Reblog from APEA and Rituu Nanda)

Following on from the localization blog by PLAN, APEA has shared why trust is declining in local communities. Note the learn not give lesson 🙂

Reblog of Asia Pacific Evaluation Association / Rituu Nanda: https://asiapacificeval.org/trust-is-both-a-belief-and-a-bond/

Trust is both a belief and a bond: Why is Trust for outsiders declining in communities? (Insights from 13 countries across four continents)

A group of 16 Participants of the Community Ownership in MEL and Research Group of APEA from Benin, Bangladesh, France, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Nigeria, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tunis, UK came together on 15th March’24 to discuss issues around Trust. (Ahmed, Amol Shaila Suresh, Anita Cheria, Bhuban Bajracharya, Chinenye Mercy Morka, Fiona Cram, Jhank, Lipika Das Gupta, Luc Barrière-Constantin, Maroof, Pakeeza Arif, Randika De Mel, Rituu B Nanda, Sarah Gharbi, Sushila Pandit, Visvalingam Muralithas.)

(This post is compiled by Rituu B Nanda based on the inputs of the discussion)

Trust is a basic need It helps anyone survive, and maintain relationships including with self, immediate family members, society. Trust helps in connecting one with others and just being yourself.

What do we mean by trust?

  • The absence of doubt about other’s intention…
  • Being transparent and acknowledging that we know less about them, and seek to build understanding.
  • Recognizing that our actions may only play a small role in people’s lives and approaching with a sense of modesty and humility.
  •  Standing with the communities, being one of them.
  • Convince the communities about our sincere intentions
  • Trust is about visiting with people

Decline in trust-internal and external

We observe a loss of trust both towards outsiders and within the communities themselves. Communities are losing trust in the system, implementation agencies, evaluation professionals and researchers. Due to longstanding practices followed by outsiders, the younger generation exhibits less trust in them compared to older generations, as their expectations remain unfulfilled. Moreover, trust within communities has eroded not only within groups in communities and neighbourhoods but also amongst family members.

Why is community’s Trust eroding in outsiders?

  • Evaluators’ approach is often perceived as overly theoretical by communities. Community members feel that stakeholders treat them merely as means to achieve their own agenda. Outsiders, driven by predefined targets, tend to impose objectives on communities, exacerbating mistrust.
  • Tribal or indigenous communities prefer  isolation and often resist mainstreaming efforts , feeling unheard and excluded from decision-making processes that affect them.
  • Repeated service delivery projects in communities foster dependency rather than empowerment. Additionally, implementation agencies lack transparency and come with pre-planned projects without involving community in design.
  • The decline in trust is compounded by a sense of fatigue, as projects often address surface-level issues without tackling systemic problems. Consequently, expectations remain unmet, fuelling disillusionment among community members.
  • Communities express frustration with organizations that promise resources but vanish after a few years, leaving behind unfulfilled promises. This perpetuates the erosion of trust in development professionals.
Example from north Sri Lanka: Post-war Reconciliation A range of complex challenges can affect the well-being and social cohesion of residents. The northern part of Sri Lanka has been deeply affected by the decades-long civil conflict, and issues of reconciliation between different ethnic and religious groups remain. Rebuilding trust and fostering dialogue among communities is essential for long-term peace and stability.

How can we restore Trust?

Government authorities, civil society organizations, local communities, and other stakeholders have to prioritize inclusive development, social cohesion, and respect for diversity to build trust:

  • Trust is fragile and rather than imposing external definition, we need to understand how communities define trustthemselves.
  • Mistrust within a community often stems from past episodes, usually rooted in bitter experiences. It is the responsibility of outsiders to delve into these causes and initiate the rebuilding process.
  • Without trust from the community, a project is likely to fail. So, engagement with communities must commence with trust-building.
  • Cultivate competent communities which can address certain issues independently. For example, in rural Nepal, where a small percentage of households face extreme poverty, local government and communities can collaborate to address their needs.
  • Transparency regarding project objectives is paramount. Instead of devising plans and then presenting them to the community, they should be involved in shaping the work plan from the start.
  • Outsiders need to come to learn, not to give” – We need to be learners ourselves.  If we position ourselves solely as experts, communities may be less inclined to engage with us. Knowledge exchange should flow both ways.  Building trust necessitates authenticity and genuine connections.  To restore trust – we have to be non-judgemental, by being ourselves
  • Consistency is fundamental in trust-building. Move away from short term funding. Long-term engagement demonstrates commitment, gradually fostering trust over time.
Rebuilding Trust-from deficit based to strength-based approach After the Ebola epidemic, Constellation was invited to Guinea and Liberia to rebuild trust  in communities toward government health services. Employing the SALT approach, communities took ownership and initiated dialogue with health officials, thereby strengthening trust and partnership between both stakeholders. https://the-constellation.org/opening-safe-conversations-to-restore-trust-after-ebola/  

Conclusion Participants agreed that trust is fundamental for survival, and therefore, growing mistrust is worrying as the world becomes increasingly fragmented. Trustworthy relationships are crucial for sustaining long-term partnerships and ensuring the effectiveness of evaluations. Through trust, we can foster a safe environment for ourselves and others.

 

REBLOG: COMMENTARY A USAID localization model finally emerges by Justin Fugle October 6, 2023

NOTE: Am reposting a great blog (plus attended the webinar) on localization of aid (getting US foreign assistance directly to local organizations), as we know, what is local tends to be sustained over the long-term, and NGOs can design, implement, monitor & evaluate with sustainability in mind, as they’re on the ground over the long-term. Original post: https://www.brookings.edu/articles/a-usaid-localization-model-finally-emerges

A USAID localization model finally emerges (reblog)

More than a decade ago, the efforts of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to directly fund its local implementers accelerated substantially, showing that localization could be successfully implemented within the rules and constraints of the U.S. government.  At the same time, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s localization initiative failed to move the needle, with direct funding to local entities at 4.2% in 2012 and merely 4.4% in 2018. USAID’s troubles with localization were so systemic at the time that, according to an article earlier this year by former senior U.S. officials, the Agency “declined to adopt” an approach shifting its resources to local organizations, “despite agreeing to the policy by signing the agreement” with the State Department’s Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, better known as PEPFAR.

US implementers transferred leadership to local orgs in just four years

 By contrast, the CDC followed its PEPFAR agreement to advance localization, transforming grants with U.S. implementers into “terminal transition awards,” mandating that the American organizations would have just four years to transfer full responsibility for all activities to local entities “without any drop off in the quality or coverage of services” to the population. As a result, PEPFAR’s budget flowing directly through the CDC to local organizations and governments reached fully 67% by 2012!

This was a result of CDC transitioning its Antiretroviral Therapy programs in 13 countries from U.S.-based organizations and grantees to Ministries of Health and indigenous organizations. Critically, studies found that program service delivery by those local entities was comparable to that of its U.S. partners, demonstrating 11 years ago that localization could be achieved while delivering results and safeguarding taxpayer dollars. Based on this success, PEPFAR went on to set and largely achieve a goal that a whopping 70% of its funding would be awarded directly to local organizations and governments.

With this in mind, it must be satisfying for USAID staff to see their own in-house localization model finally emerging with direct local funding increasing to more than 10% in FY22. Of course, this shift would need to accelerate considerably to meet or even get close to Administrator Samantha Power’s goal of 25% local funding by 2025; however, there now seems to be a path that Bureaus and Missions across USAID could follow to fulfill that commitment. It builds on the PEPFAR-CDC model and USAID’s ongoing procurement and staffing reforms.

USAID’s direct local funding for HIV/AIDS programs jumped 81% in just four years

Two recent peer-reviewed journal articles by USAID document that between FY18 and FY22, USAID’s PEPFAR-funded HIV/AIDS programs expanded annual direct funding “to local partners by $345 million, or an 81% increase.” The data shows that this major expansion was accomplished incrementally across the Missions. For example, local direct funding rose from $452 million in FY18 to $600 million in FY20 to $797 million in FY22. Thus, the 81% increase was accomplished through steady, widespread, and manageable progress. It should be noted here that third-party assessments of USAID localization data have raised doubts, both in terms of methodology and the inclusion of some international organizations. Still, it seems clear that the increases were rapid and significant. This sharp jump also gains credibility from the fact that it replicated the increases achieved by the CDC in the 2010s.

The USAID authors stressed that to qualify as local, partners had to be “locally incorporated, registered, and have a majority of local staff, including at senior levels,” so their local partners would all qualify as local entities under USAID’s current definition. They added that based on the available program assessments, local partners again “displayed quality of service comparable to international partners.” So, after struggling for years to move the needle at all, how was USAID’s HIV/AIDS team able to achieve an 81% jump in just four years? The authors cite six aspects of USAID’s emerging localization model. None of these seem to be exclusive to HIV programming, suggesting they could be widely adopted across the Global Health Bureau and the Agency.

Six key factors made it possible

  1. An ambitious goal (PEPFAR’s 70% local funding commitment) resulting in country-specific strategies that include local funding targets based on the Missions’ specific context and procurement plans.
  2. Strong data systems to monitor progress toward both the direct local funding target and the program performance of the local partners.
  3. Strengthening local partner organizational and financial capacity. Critically, the capacity strengthening efforts have short timelines and focus on preparing the local partners to become prime awardees, as in terminal transition awards. This may not completely align with USAID’s new Local Capacity Strengthening approach.
  4. Bolstering USAID’s capacity to manage local awards. As noted in a blog last year, this point recognizes that USAID sometimes lacks the capacity in its operating systems and organizational culture to work with local organizations, and must accept responsibility for improving. In the case of USAID’s HIV programs, 98 new positions (funded by PEPFAR) were approved across 16 Missions. These included new staff in Global Health as well as Acquisition and Assistance and Financial Management. Some Missions also hired a local transition or local capacity adviser. Therefore, current requests by Missions and Bureaus for similar positions should be prioritized.
  5. Changing the way USAID does business, including expedited procurement approaches and building a wider network of local partners through personal and online outreach and by convening local partner conferences.
  6. USAID leadership at headquarters and within country teams made transitioning to local partners a top priority.

Model is transferable to other bureaus 

As to whether these results were replicable beyond HIV programs, then Acting Administrator for Global Health, Jennifer Adams, wrote that USAID HIV had developed the “largest local partner funding footprint’ across any Agency program with “significant experience and lessons learned” to share with their colleagues within the Global Health Bureau and through the Agency about successful direct partnerships with local organizations. Reflecting on the same results, USAID’s former Chief of Staff testified before Congress this year that the experience was widely applicable, asserting that “every large” cooperative agreement and contract should include “mandatory Transition Awards to local organizations/local entities for the vast majority of the substantive work by the end of the period of performance.”

Key reforms in A&A staffing and partnering

The second set of breakthroughs at the heart of USAID’s emerging localization model have been reform to its Acquisition and Assistance (A&A) practices and staffing. This builds from recognition in Congress and the Front Office that USAID’s business practices are perhaps the single largest barrier to advancing locally-led development. To address these issues and improve aid effectiveness, USAID’s new Acquisition and Assistance (A&A) strategy was launched six months ago. It sets out a path to achieve the 25% local funding goal, expand and equip the A&A workforce, and acquire a more diverse set of partners for locally-led development solutions.

One key personnel innovation was to recognize USAID’s local staff as an overlooked resource. The new A&A strategy explicitly recognizes that the local Contracting Officer corps is underutilized with just 10% having warrants to obligate and manage funds on behalf of the U.S. government. After years of ‘slow walking’ the idea, USAID has again made rapid progress, moving from 19 local staff with these administrative warrants in FY22 to 40 now, exceeding its ambitious target of doubling the number in just one year. This shows that there are many well-qualified local staff as well as pent-up demand, so hopefully USAID will continue to expand their ranks in FY24.

A key effort to expand USAID’s local partner base is a new public-facing A&A website, WorkwithUsaid.org. WorkwithUSAID.org helps introduce USAID to prospective partners in civil society and has seen a good amount of traffic and engagement, with more than 5,000 organizations registered, over 60% of which are considered local entities.

Another important shift in the A&A strategy is the effort to improve local partners’ ability to recover their costs of winning and implementing awards. The current “de minimus” overhead recovery rate of just 10% underfunds the core and proposal-writing expenses of local entities. When compared to the 20-40% overhead rates received by USAID’s traditional implementers through NICRA, the current 10% rate emerges as a glaring disadvantage and disincentive for local partners to accept the risk of working with USAID. Thankfully, new draft guidance from OMB has opened the door to raising the “de minimus” overhead rate to 15%. Finalization of this rule would allow USAID to more fairly compensate its local partners and break what has been called the “starvation cycle,” of unrecovered overhead costs by local entities.

Successful localization at CDC and USAID HIV have blazed a trail

The rapid growth of direct funding to local entities by the CDC’s PEPFAR-funded programs a decade ago and by USAID’s PEPFAR-funded HIV programs more recently demonstrate that USAID can still reach or get close to the 25% direct local funding target by FY25. One key aspect would be the adoption of this internal USAID model by other technical sectors. That would be aided by the innovations of the A&A strategy, facilitating changes to USAID’s business practices while also reducing the costs for local entities to become its partners. It’s now fair to say that the localization trail has been blazed with PEPFAR, CDC, and USAID HIV as its pioneers. It’s reasonable for localization’s bipartisan supporters in Congress to expect other parts of USAID to adopt similar approaches.

AUTHORS

Fostering Values-Driven Sustainability Through an Ex-Post Capacities Lens (reposting a book chapter)

We all want our project results to be sustained, but without doing ex-post sustainability evaluations, we don’t know if they are. However, ex-post evaluations can also teach us how to fund, design, monitor, and evaluate projects before they close. They also require some evaluator competencies, and the checklists below are designed to help build capacities to make implemented projects more sustained, This research was also informed by excellent research by INTRAC and CDA. Enjoy! Also, you can download it from this great array of evaluator competencies via the Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation.

Fostering Values-Driven Sustainability Through an Ex-Post Evaluation Capacities Lens

 

Jindra Cekan/ova

Founder of Valuing Voices at Cekan Consulting LLC

Background: Ex-post evaluation of sustainability has been done for 40 years in global development. However, it has been done far less than 1% of all global development projects, for there is little proof that “sustainable” development is or is not. Similarly, foreign aid projects are implemented to foster sustainability, but without the benefit of evidence from ex-post evaluations of what drove it and limited research on the benefits of robust exit strategies..

 

Purpose: Transparency in values we hold, and evaluative capacities’ best practices that we bring to our evaluations inform how they are done, with whom, and for what. Using the evidence base from ex-post evaluations and exit strategies led to these nine checklists. Professionals in monitoring and evaluation should use them to foster long-term sustainability and learning.

 

Setting: Drawing on primary and secondary research across 91 ex-post evaluations of foreign aid sustainability plus two major studies of exit strategies globally..

 

Intervention: Not applicable.

 

Research Design: The checklists were drafted based on sustainability and exit studies and then vetted with lead researchers of the two exit studies. They were revised, and additional research was done on both values-driven evaluation and evaluation competencies.

Data Collection and Analysis: Some primary data was collected during ex-post evaluations by the author, complemented by secondary research.

 

Findings: Sustained exit commitments and conditions checklists can build evaluator capacities in evaluating sustainability. Several have been used by Tufts, USAID, the GEF, and the Adaptation Fund and verified actual sustainability and its prospects. Also, evaluator capacities can be built.

 

Keywords: ex-post evaluation; sustainability; monitoring and evaluation; values; competencies; M&E checklists

Abstract

 

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) work is guided by an array of values held by funders, implementers, M&E experts, and project participants and partners. Some values are explicit, while others are assumed, such as the truth of “values-neutral” evaluation or that projects are sustainable in the long term. I espouse Patton’s (2022) “activist interventionist change-committed evaluation” by both advocating for ex-post evaluation of many development aid projects’ untested hypotheses about durability, and suggesting ex-post lessons can shape development aid projects from design to closure. Ex-post lessons are valuable for current project planning, design, implementation, and M&E. Using them can make development results more sustainable. Checklists created to ease monitoring and evaluation of prospects for sustainability should be used with country nationals. Six evaluator competencies support sustainability practice, namely systems thinking competency, collaboration competency, anticipatory competency, and reflective, technical, and situational practice competencies. Drawing on several studies that validate this approach, this paper shows how infrequently ex-post evaluations of sustainability are conducted. This seems to indicate that the lessons learned from ex-post evaluation are not valued. Bringing lessons from rare ex-post evaluations to benefit current implementation and exit is the core of the checklists described in this article. Learning from ex-post evaluations and exit studies is very beneficial to inform current aid projects and helps results last. Evaluator competencies are built through this paper. Evaluating both the results expected by donors and new, locally emerging outcomes from local efforts to sustain results also adds value to the canon. Ongoing learning and sharing lessons from progress around the project cycle, from participants to donors, and among M&E experts is vital, especially bringing those lessons back to new projects. The six competencies, the technical checklists, and evaluative thinking about sustainability can help shift programming toward locally led and sustainable development.

Introduction

 

This paper explores a range of values and capacities needed to support the sustainability of foreign aid development projects. It draws on 12 years of Valuing Voices research.[1] This initiative, aimed to increase sustainable solutions for excellent impact through learning from ex-post project sustainability evaluations, also focuses on how evaluators can promote the design, monitoring, and evaluation of sustainability pre-closure and draw on germane evaluator competencies. This paper explores a range of evaluators’ views on the values we bring as monitoring and evaluation experts, as well as the competencies needed to design, implement, monitor, and evaluate for long-term sustainability.

 

Both implicit and explicit values that donors, implementers, and M&E commissioners bring to global development work influence how that work is done. Evaluators need to be aware of and promote the explicit and implicit values that drive M&E work to build evaluation capacity that manifests evaluation values to ascertain which project results are sustainable, by whom, for how long, and why.

 

Sustainability, i.e., the long-term durability of project results, does not happen by itself; it needs to be fostered during the project, but more needs to be known about the conditions required for sustainability to take root after project closure and exit. Valuing Voices’ founder, consultants, and clients believe that evaluating sustainability cannot be limited to desk studies; that eliciting the views of country-based former project participants and partners is key. Based on the lessons from 10 such ex-post sustainability and exit evaluations done by Valuing Voices and over 90 other studies that include participant responses from a variety of donors and implementers,[2] plus seminal studies of exit strategies from Lewis (2016) and CDA (2020), we found nine elements need to be monitored and evaluated from project design to the ex-post years after closure. Development practitioners, including evaluators, need to build their knowledge about what has been sustained in ex-post evaluations and have this inform how they advocate to include these nine elements in project design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. This will need equal participation by national partners and participants to be built in throughout to foster long-term results and for new emerging pathways to emerge.

 

The nine elements are presented below in the form of checklists, which function as evaluator capacities tools. For by identifying what elements are needed to foster sustainability in programming, evaluators can inform clients and employers of what needs to be designed, implemented, monitored, and evaluated. The checklists cover two kinds of sustainability drivers: (a) commitments to sustainability, which includes designing beyond the project lifetime through a theory of sustainability, thinking about how to foster sustainability through the process of exit/handover, and considering risks and resilience; and (b) building conditions within the very project to foster lasting sustainability. This involves looking beyond resources as the only driver of durability, to seeing what makes local ownership of results robust. This includes considering several questions: How should equitable partnerships be fostered for long-term results? What capacities to keep disseminating behavior change exist? How adaptive are the timeframe and exit to foster sustainability? How accountable are projects in their communications to partners as they exit?

 

One of the greatest shocks that threatens the sustainability of most global development aid investments is climate change, which is why the natural world and access to viable nature is part of both risks and resilience to shocks. It is discussed separately, given the urgency with which we need to monitor and evaluate its progression and effect on sustainability. Some evaluator competency-building resources that help to evaluate the natural world have been added (e.g., Brouselle, 2022; Rowe, 2019). This is because nature is assumed and often overlooked in much global development programming design and evaluation, as seen in the review of several hundred ex-posts, exit reports, webinars, and evaluations, including blog posts about sustainable development by Cekan (2020a; 2020b), and underscored by Rowe (2019). The natural world and its environmental sustainability are a missing link, while the oft-stated but rarely evaluated “resilience” is often unproven (except for new ex-post research by the Adaptation Fund (2022). A viable natural world continuing to support lives and livelihoods underpins sustainability across so much of global foreign aid and urgently needs inclusion in all evaluations.

 

Defining Evaluation, Its Values, and Sustainability

 

Michael Scriven defined evaluation this way: “Evaluation determines the merit, worth, or value of things” (Scriven, 1991, as cited in Coffman, 2004, p. 1). “Valuation” (measurement, estimation of worth) is embedded in our work as evaluators. Increasingly, the field of evaluation is discussing the values that underpin the work of evaluators. Thomas Archibald notes in a book review, “Schwandt, House, and Scriven—call into question the dubious ‘value-free doctrine’ of the social sciences… [and] emphasize[s] the obvious yet frequently ignored primacy of values and valuing in evaluation” (2016, p. 448). Evaluation, from the perspective of Michael Scriven, is filled with values:

 

If evaluators cling to a values-free philosophy, then the inevitable and necessary application of values in evaluation research can only be done indirectly, by incorporating the values of other persons who might be connected with the programs, such as program administrators, program users, or other stakeholders. (Encyclopedia.com, 2018, para. 26)

 

This opens a door for participatory input from those most closely connected to projects¾the partners and the participants.

 

Michael Quinn Patton highlights tensions between evaluations that seek independent definitive judgments versus those that honor diverse perspectives. He values work done via participatory co-creation by activist, interventionist, change-committed evaluators, where the evaluation itself engages in change. This paper explicitly encourages those involved in monitoring and evaluation to work through participatory co-creation, because sustainability can only be maintained if it is locally driven. Evaluation also needs change-committed evaluators who embrace long-term sustainability.

 

The Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD/DAC) defines sustainability as the basis for ex-post project evaluation. Their definition includes that same reference to long-term sustainability, and its evaluation is part of the change needed in our field¾namely, a focus on longitudinal results: “the continuation of benefits from a development intervention after major development assistance has been completed…. [and] [t]he probability of continued long-term benefits. The resilience to risk of the net benefit flows over time” (2002, p. 37). In OECD/DAC’s updated and detailed definition, evaluators are directed to consider sustainability

 

at each point of the results chain and the project cycle of an intervention. Evaluators should also reflect on sustainability in relation to resilience and adaptation in dynamic and complex environments. This includes the sustainability of inputs (financial or otherwise) after the end of the intervention and the sustainability of impacts in the broader context of the intervention. For example, an evaluation could assess whether an intervention considered partner capacities and built ownership at the beginning of the implementation period as well as whether there was willingness and capacity to sustain financing at the end of the intervention. In general, evaluators can examine the conditions for sustainability that were or were not created in the design of the intervention and by the intervention activities and whether there was adaptation where required…. If the evaluation is taking place ex post, the evaluator can also examine whether the planned exit strategy was properly implemented to ensure the continuation of positive effects as intended. (2019 Sustainability, para. 3, 6).

 

These key elements, especially the “conditions for sustainability,” inform the checklists in this paper.

 

The OECD also differentiates between durability and ecological sustainability. With the latter being relegated to:

 

Confusion can arise between sustainability in the sense of the continuation of results, and environmental sustainability or the use of resources for future generations…. environmental sustainability is a concern (and may be examined under several criteria, including relevance, coherence, impact, and sustainability). (2019, Sustainability, para. 2)

 

Yet sustainability rests on our valuing the environment and planning for risks and resilience to sustainability (see Figure 8). As evaluators, we need to push donors and implementers to examine the natural system’s resilience, which supposedly unrelated sectors rely on. For instance, the environment affects sectors such as income generation (e.g., natural products being processed by people generating income) and education (e.g., the gardens that subsidize teacher salaries, or the farming, relying on rain, that supports parents to afford school fees). In “Planting Seeds for Change,” evaluator Brouselle (2022) reminds us of the primacy of climate values in Evaluation’s COP26 compendium:

 

We must challenge the ways that evaluations are commissioned; how policies and programmes are framed¾to take risks, going beyond existing evaluation mandates, to improve equity, health and prosperity; reduce pollution; take care of our air, waters and lands; and protect biodiversity… we should use our facilitating skills to foster democracy and engagement. Evaluators can contribute to creating spaces for dialogue and debate with commissioners, participants, and stakeholders, on the socio-ecological impacts of projects, programmes and policies. (para. 4)

 

Linking Competencies and Capacities to Sustainability via Valuing Voices Sustained Exit Checklists

There are six types of evaluator competencies that are relevant to focus work planning for sustainability during design/implementation or conducting an ex-post sustainability evaluation.

 

Evaluation as a field needs to embrace a variety of such competencies as we seek to address a range of complex problems. The first three competencies come from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), from a 2017 report called “Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives,” which informs the macro view for sustainability and locally led development.

 

Systems Thinking Competency

UNESCO (2017) defines this competency as “the abilities to recognize and understand relationships; to analyse complex systems; to think of how systems are embedded within different domains and different scales; and to deal with uncertainty” (p. 10). This is key as interventions interact with complicated societies, often with wider aims than what just one project wants to achieve. Uncertainty affects projects in implementation (which is why adaptive management is a checklist item (see Figure 7). Further, because ex-posts are not about direct attribution, given the complexity of communities, but contribution, it is vital to look at a range of outside influences post–project closure that could explain the results (not) seen.

 

Collaboration Competency

 

This competency is pivotal in designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating sustainability, which lies in both “the abilities to learn from others; to understand and respect the needs, perspectives and actions of others… and to facilitate collaborative and participatory problem solving” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 10). Listening to those who will be tasked with sustaining results or innovating emerging outcomes involves a close collaboration, as does using participatory methods to both design for and troubleshoot/problem-solve with.

 

Anticipatory Competency

 

Anticipatory competency is “the ability to understand and evaluate multiple futures¾possible, probable and desirable¾and to create one’s own visions for the future, to apply the precautionary principle, to assess the consequences of actions, and to deal with risks and changes” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 10). This competency is key to the whole field of sustainability as a field of study. Often projects assume sustainability will be the long-term result of development efforts. But, as Rogers and Coates (2015) note,

 

Hope is not a strategy. Sustainability plans that depend on the expectation, or hope, that individuals and organizations will continue to function without the key factors previously identified are not likely to achieve this goal. Such plans should take account of what is feasible within the economic, political, and social/cultural context of the areas in which they work. (p. 44)

 

This also relates to two other competencies, systems thinking (discussed above) and situational practice (discussed below).

 

The Canadian Evaluation Society (CES; 2018) provides us with the second three domains relevant to sustainability that evaluators need to consider in terms of how the M&E is done.

 

Reflective Practice Competencies

CES’s Reflective Practice domain includes competencies that “focus on the evaluator’s knowledge of evaluation theory and practice; application of evaluation standards, guidelines, and ethics; and awareness of self, including reflection on one’s practice and the need for continuous learning and professional growth” (2018, p. 5). This competency applies to the content of the sustainability methods presented below, as well as the knowledge evaluators will gain from evaluating prospects for sustainability and emerging outcomes (Figure 1) in projects. Additionally, this competency domain includes both considering “the well-being of human and natural systems in evaluation practice” and being “committed to transparency” (p. 6), which is the aim of using the checklists as a whole sustainability learning process. It is important in such reflection to clarify one’s values.

 

Technical Practice Competencies

These competencies focus on the “strategic, methodological, and interpretive decisions required to conduct an evaluation” (CES, 2018, p. 5), which directly applies to the five sustained exit commitments and conditions (see Figure 3). One competency, “assesses program evaluability,” is germane to ex-post evaluation and prospects for long-term sustainability. Cekan and Legro (2021) have applied the elements in the nine checklists which comprise the Embedding Sustainability in the Project Cycle framework to a World Bank sustainability study, and Cekan has used it in ex-post evaluations, such as a recent one for youth employment (USAID Mali, 2022). It has informed the training materials created for the Adaptation Fund (2023) on how to evaluate sustainability and resilience ex-post.

 

Situational Practice Competencies

As so few projects are “cookie-cutter” versions of each other, it is always vital to contextualize each project and its prospects for sustainability in its unique context, applying CES’s third competency domain, Situational Practice: “Focus on understanding, analyzing, and attending to the many circumstances that make every evaluation unique, including culture, stakeholders, and context” (CES, 2018, p. 6), identifying how specifically the project has moved around the project cycle (see Figure 2), particularly monitoring “organizational changes and changes in the program environment during the course of the evaluation” (p. 7) as well as tracing changes that lead to likely sustainability post-project, and building evaluation capacity by “engag[ing] in reciprocal processes in which evaluation knowledge and expertise are shared between the evaluator and stakeholders” (p. 7) throughout both the analysis and the sharing of the learning results.

 

Competencies that M&E professionals need can be used when monitoring and evaluating prospects for sustainability during project implementation as well as during ex-post evaluations. Sustainability prospects increase when they are designed and planned for, as Zivetz et al. (2017) found in researching ex-posts. There are clear advantages of planning for sustainability measurement from the outset of the project as well as measuring sustainability through the entire project cycle. Donors, implementers, and experts in monitoring and evaluation, as well as national partners, need to be trained in these competencies.

Evaluating Sustainability in Practice

Aid experts including evaluators embed values in their work in a myriad of ways, starting with how projects are funded and designed and by whom; for this reason, much M&E emphasis is on final rather than ex-post evaluations and learning from them. Over $3.5 trillion has been spent on public foreign aid projects in the past 70 years (OECD, 2019). Yet, the aid industry has evaluated fewer than 1% of these projects for sustainability (Cekan, 2015). Valuing Voices’ ex-post research on 39 organizations’ ex-post evaluations of sustainability shows that most project results decrease (10–90%) as early as 2 years ex-post (Valuing Voices, 2012).

 

Except for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which has done over 2,500 ex-post evaluations on their grants, loans, and technical assistance, learning from what lasts is rare among international aid donors and implementers. An Asian Development Bank study (2010) of post-completion sustainability found that “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” (p. 1). The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, both multilateral banks, show less stellar investments in ex-post learning (Lopez, 2015; Cekan, 2022). Ex-post evaluations are rare, as is illustrated by a Sustainable Governance Indicators overview of EU member state policy evaluations, with most countries using them rarely or not at all (Sustainable Governance Indicators, n.d.).

 

Often in the ex-post evaluation of sustained impact, we see some results fade as early as 2 years ex-post. It is key to prioritize learning from what was sustained by asking our project participants and local/national partners directly during implementation about sustainability prospects. Field inquiry gives no time to test assumptions about drivers/barriers that the project is being implemented under and test whether optimistic trajectories will hold post-closure, as is widely assumed in the global development industry. For as Sridharan and Nakaima (2010) write:

 

There is no reason for the trajectory of performance outcomes to be linear or monotonic over time¾this has important implications for an evaluation system… [and] should programs that do not have a ‘successful’ trajectory of ‘performance measures’ be terminated? (p. 144)

 

To make sustainability more likely, designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating for sustainability is key, and makes successful trajectories more likely. While widespread ex-post learning would be the most effective, lessons can be learned to manifest our values of pro-sustainable development by extracting learning from the ex-post evaluations and exit studies that have been done. This is the aim of the rest of this article.

 

Most ex-posts have found mixed results of some activities being sustained, and others not. Often, what was relevant and locally owned, was sustained, whereas activities that relied on donor incentives such as food aid failed to continue (Catholic Relief Services [CRS], 2016). A 2020 Jones and Jordan ex-post study of USAID Global Waters projects found that while 25 million have gained access to water and sanitation,

 

despite tremendous achievements within the life of our programs, they have largely not endured… Rural water systems that, at activity close, delivered safe water to households have fallen into disrepair. Basic latrine ownership and use have dwindled. Communities certified as open-defecation free are backsliding, and gains in handwashing have not been sustained. [Nonetheless,] where USAID invested in providing technical assistance to committed government partners and utilities, gains in service provision and local capacity were sustained, with local actors taking up and expanding upon best practices introduced during activity implementation. (para. 3, 4)

 

This again supports designing and implementing for sustainability during the project, which is the aim of this paper. But such reviews are rare among donors.

 

The dearth of ex-post evaluations suggests that most global development evaluations currently being conducted are not value neutral. Commissioners seem to value short-term results rather than showing and learning from sustained impacts. Further, donors and implementers design and fund aid projects and their evaluations. Country nationals need to be engaged throughout the project cycle (Figure 2), for they will be left to sustain results. As Scriven stated in discussions with Donaldson, Patton and Fetterman (2010),

 

I want to hear, not just about intended use or users of the evaluation. I want to find out about impact on intended and actual impactees—the targeted and accidental recipients of the program, not just the people that get the evaluation. So I consider my task as an evaluator to find out who it is that this program is aimed at reaching and helping. (p. 23)

 

Emerging Outcomes

 

Typical ex-post evaluations focus on what lasted from what donors funded. Few evaluations return ex-post to also ask the front-line users, project participants, and partners what lasted of the prior project, and what emerged from their local efforts to sustain results with fewer or different resources, partnerships, etc. This glaring omission speaks to a lack of valuing sustained results, much less learning from local capacities to sustain results differently. Thus an innovation by Valuing Voices in evaluating sustainability, either ex-post or for monitoring sustainability, is the search for emerging outcomes, namely what emerges from local efforts to sustain results, rather than focusing only on expected donor-designed pathways to still exist.

 

The example in Figure 1 comes from 2023 Adaptation Fund training materials on ex-post; it draws on a three-year World Food Program Ecuadorian ex-post evaluation of sustainability and resilience. The expected change was that improving the water supply for crops would lead to improved food security. While that was happening to some degree, other outcome pathways were happening as well. In some areas, more water was used to improve cultivation methods, which led to an emerging outcome of children returning home to their rural villages to help their parents and continued to sustain food security, which decreased family vulnerability. Elsewhere, maladaptive pathways also emerged, in which a landslide eliminated the stable water reservoir source in one site, leading farmers to revert to drawing water from a river via pump systems, which likely led to decreased water for the community.

Figure 1. Expected, Emerging, and Unexpected Outcomes Ex-Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note. From Training Material for Ex Post Pilots, by Adaptation Fund, 2023 (https://www.adaptation-fund.org/document/training-material-for-ex-post-pilots/).

 

The picture is incomplete without looking at what was expected to be sustained and what local communities had to innovate to maintain results. Unless we look at both what was expected to be sustained and what local communities had to innovate to sustain results, the picture would be incomplete. Both can be traced during implementation and at ex-post evaluation.

 

Sustainability Around the Project Cycle

We need to build sustainability in from the onset, from funding and design to implementation, while looking out for alternative paths that locals create (see the orange slices in Figure 2). Once local stakeholders are involved throughout the project cycle (green slices in Figure 2), results are more likely to be sustained, for the programming is done with country nationals who will sustain results after donors leave. Assumptions need to be checked, adaptation to foster durability needs to be monitored and evaluated, and exit needs to include consultations on ownership, resources, partnerships, adaptation, resilience, and communications, much of which can be traced in a theory of sustainability.

 

Figure 2. Embedding Sustainability in the Project Cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note. From “What Happens After the Project Ends?”, by J. Cekan, 2016 (https://valuingvoices.com/what-happens-after-the-project-ends-country-national-ownership-lessons-from-post-project-sustained-impact-evaluations-part-2/ ).

 

As ex-post evaluation of projects is an important link missing before exiting with participants and partners leading sustainability; this paper focuses on lessons learned from the 90+ ex-posts reviewed. Lessons come from projects such as those below. Roughly 80% of the CRS Niger PROSAN food security project was sustained 3 years ex-post. It was implemented for sustainability by taking the final 18 months to exit, rather than 3 to 6 months. National partners were co-implementers pre–project closure. The UK charity EveryChild similarly worked with INTRAC (Lewis, 2016; Morris et al., 2021) to evaluate sustainability during exit. They did so in four countries 5 years ex-post, learning similar lessons about phasing down and over before exiting sustainably.

Were national stakeholders to partner equally, these local “targeted recipients” as Scriven tells us, could require projects not to close until further funding was secured, as EveryChild UK did. Donors, implementers, and evaluators need to listen to what locals want and can sustain. All of us who value sustainable development need to design M&E to incorporate sustainability. Exemplary studies are an ex-post tracing national primary teacher training (USAID Uganda, 2017) and final evaluation projecting sustainably prospects pre-exit from migrants and NGOs in Bangladesh (Hasan, 2021).

Thus, the checklists below help foster sustainability through M&E that involves questioning assumptions that donors and implementers, partners, and participants hold about the sustainability of results. It means building capacities to monitor and evaluate conditions for sustainable impact that are embedded in a traceable, relevant way as projects are implemented. It means documenting and learning from data throughout implementation, planning sustained exit beyond the final evaluation, and retaining data to be evaluated ex-post. This involves building understanding and capacities for ex-post evaluation and project planning (funding, design, implementation, and M&E) to foster it. This includes national stakeholders and evaluators who have a greater stake in their countries who can help foreign national stakeholders focus on learning what excelled or failed and how to use it for future projects in-country.

 

Validation

 

Several sources of expertise inform and validate the checklists (see Figures 4 to 8). In their 2015 analysis of exit strategies and sustainability for four USAID / Food and Peace countries, Rogers and Coates highlighted monitoring and evaluating the presence of four “drivers” of sustainability. These drivers create conditions that both are used to evaluate sustainability ex-post and are likely indicators for how likely sustainability is (if such drivers were put in place during implementation pre-exit). Rogers and Coates’ drivers are (a) sustained motivation/ ownership by national stakeholders to sustain a project’s activities; if activities are yielding relevant results, they are far more likely to be sustained; (b) a sustained flow of resources from, national or international sources; (c) sustained technical and managerial capacities passed on to new participants; and (d) linkages/partnerships with governmental/private or other organizations, for an array of support. Negi and Sohn (2022) confirmed the presence of these drivers across Global Environment Facility (GEF) projects created by Rogers and Coates and applied by Cekan and Legro (2022). Negi and Sohn’s review of 62 projects also confirmed that project design, a key sustainability driver, feeds into OECD’s (2019) Relevance criterion, as well as Figure 4. Similarly, USAID Uganda (2017) found the same four drivers were operational in sustainability.

These elements of sustainability draw on ex-post research by Cekan and key studies about participatory implementation and exit. One is Anderson, Brown, and Jean’s (2012) report Time to Listen. They interviewed 6,000 recipients and implementers of international aid across 20 countries from inside and outside the aid system. Their study focuses on unearthing stories “on the ways that people on the receiving side of aid suggest it can become more effective and accountable” (p. i). A second source was CDA (2020) case studies research led by Jean and a consortium of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), focused on improving exit. This work, Stopping as Success, highlighted that a gradual exit process contributes to sustainability. This research informs one of the commitments mentioned in Figure 3, namely phasing down over time during implementation and to national partners before exiting. These studies underscore that global development should be informed by local conditions and country nationals. Local participation is important while checking on sustainability prospects, as is getting local feedback on how well exit is going pre-closure. These checklists below also draw on seminal research by Lewis for INTRAC (2016), from extensive work on exit among NGOs.

Sustained Exit Commitments and Conditions Checklists

 

Figure 3. Valuing Voices Sustained Exit Commitments and Conditions Checklists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note. From “Exit for Sustainability Checklists,” by Valuing Voices, 2020 (https://valuingvoices.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Exit-For-Sustainability-Checklists-Dec2020-2.pdf).

 

Now, let’s return to reflect on how the evaluator competencies articulated by UNESCO and CES fit into these Figure 3 commitments and conditions. Systems thinking competency leads us to consider what a theory of sustainability could consist of, and how to plan for it, given the complex ecosystems any project is embedded in. Collaborative and anticipatory competencies are brought into play when handing over projects during implementation, pre-exit. This is especially relevant to partnerships seeking to best face unknown future risks to sustainability and foster resilience to shocks pre-closure. Taking these commitments to heart predisposes projects to continuation. Another competency, reflective practice, needs to be used to discern which conditions of sustainability are driving change. Further, technical and situational practice are used in the field, examining if and to what degree sustainability is driven by these six conditions. While four of the six conditions (ownership, resources, capacities, and partnerships) driving sustainability come from the Rogers and Coates study, two additional conditions have been found to be important in the exit literature. Namely, how well timeframes pre-exit can be shifted to enable sustainability, and how clear and accountable the communication is between those closing out and those being left before closure. Consider using the nine checklists listed in Figures 4 through 8 along a scale of high–medium–low and revisiting them periodically to gauge change.

Revising a theory of change into a theory of sustainability (Figure 4) is helpful to chart stakeholders, assumptions, trajectories, key questions, and whom to ask.

 

Figure 4. Sustainability Ex-Post Project: Theory of Sustainability

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ask all stakeholders involved long before exit about how much they feel they “own” the project’s continuation and the resources needed. There is a wide range of resources to be explored and questions to ask about how much the interventions are generating local results that are valued (see Figure 5).

 

Figure 5. Designing for Exit: Ownership/Motivation and Resources

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The questions in Figure 6 can be used during baseline and midterm evaluations. Some questions can also be selected, as part of ongoing monitoring, from the lists of resources and ownership (above) and capacity strengthening and partnerships. With such data, evaluating sustainability during ex-post evaluations is much easier.

 

Figure 6. Checking Assumptions: Capacity Strengthening and Partnerships

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of the elements that tell the most about the extent to which project implementation fosters sustainability are the amount of planning that has gone into project exit and handover, as well as adapting timeframes to readiness for exit (see Figure 7).

 

Figure 7. Monitoring and Adaptation: Exit/Handover, Timeframe, and Adaptation of Implementation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, long-term sustained and responsible exit fostering local ownership is based on planning for the immediate term (communications about who leaves and who knows why the project is closing, how respectfully this is this done and with how much involvement by local partners). As shown in the two checklists in Figure 8, it is vital to examine how well consideration of present and future risks and resilience to shocks have been embedded in programming.

 

Figure 8. Exit Consultations and Close: Risks/Resilience and Accountable Communications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusions

 

In addition to infusing sustainability into the project cycle during implementation, it is important to live one’s values and use evaluator capacities as guiding lights for one’s work. What also matters is monitoring and evaluating sustained ownership and the other hallmarks of sustainability within the checklists during programming and at ex-post evaluation. Further, it’s important to look for the capacities that remain behind after projects close (emerging outcomes) and learn from ex-post evaluations to inform current programming to facilitate sustainability while there are sufficient resources, partnerships, capacities and other conditions. Also important is fostering what national and local stakeholders want to sustain through their commitments and conditions. Six competencies equipping monitoring and evaluation experts to do this well have been outlined above, namely systems thinking competency, collaboration competency, anticipatory competency, and reflective, technical, and situational practice competencies. These types of “evaluative thinking” lenses can and should be used, as Archibald (2021) calls for an “ethical accountability” in locally led development. Values-driven sustainability can be a powerful driving force to improve public accountability and good governance. Equipped with such skills, evaluators simultaneously bolster evaluation systems and capacities among national evaluators and program implementers alike. For equitable, values-driven accountability for sustainability to happen, power needs to shift to people at national and local levels to determine what resources, partnerships, and capacities are needed and what is a priority for them to take ownership of. We can begin as soon as possible by building the most likely conditions for sustainability and commitments to foster sustainable exit into the project cycle. We have no time to lose; embracing such values-driven sustainability would be of great benefit.

 

 

References

 

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Morris, L., George, B., Gondwe, C., James, R., Mauney, R., & Tamang, D. D. (2021, June). Is there lasting change, five years after EveryChild’s exit? Lessons in designing programmes for lasting impact. INTRAC. https://www.intrac.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Praxis-Paper-13_EveryChild-exit.pdf

Negi, N. K., & Sohn, M. W. (2022). Sustainability after project completion: Evidence from the GEF. In J. I. Uitto & G. Batra (Eds.), Transformational change for people and the planet: Evaluating environment and development. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-78853-7_4

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[1] https://valuingvoices.com/

[2] https://valuingvoices.com/catalysts-2/

This chapter in published form can be accessed at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/376497201_Fostering_Values-Driven_Sustainability_Through_an_Ex-Post_Capacities_Lens

Valuing and implementing for ex-post sustainability, evaluating natural capital and externalities

Valuing and implementing for ex-post sustainability, evaluating natural capital and externalities

 

2023 ends with two sets of excellent sustainability practices coming out of Valuing Voices. There are also unanswered valuation questions for us to address in 2024 post-Climate Conference COP28.

 

SUSTAINABILITY

1- Reminding readers of the Sustainability and Resilience Evaluation trainings (and four ex-posts: Samoa, Ecuador, and two Argentine ones), my great colleagues Meg Spearman and Mariana Vidal Merino and I did for the Adaptation Fund. Others will take our ground-truthing sustainability ratings and doing remote ex-post drafts forward as my 3-year consulting there has ended…

 

2- I am excited to share a chapter on evaluation competencies published in the Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation. I share lessons from Valuing Voices’ 12 years of ex-post research and checklists created from what was sustained to inform current funding, design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation for sustainability. The checklists also draw on lessons about exit from CDA and INTRAC and identify six evaluator capacities and awareness of one’s values. Thanks to Sanjeev Sridharan and team, here is the chapter: Fostering Values-Driven Sustainability Through an Ex-Post Capacities Lens.

 

These first two revolve around lessons from the past to benefit the future, which shows up in the concept of ‘Longtermism’, which those of us in global development assume and hope for but rarely confirm—namely, learning from our successes and failures in the present to help us invest better in our collective futures. Longtermism is “about taking seriously the sheer scale of the future, and how high the stakes might be in shaping it. It means thinking about the challenges we might face in our lifetimes that could impact civilisation’s whole trajectory and taking action to benefit not just the present generation, but all generations to come.” As ex-post evaluation work focuses on learning for donors and implementers and our accountability to national stakeholders (and appreciation of what emerged from their efforts in intervening years), “longtermism rests on the simple idea that future people matter.” 

 

NATURAL CAPITAL AND EXTERNALITIES

3- How are invaluable assets such as clean air and vibrant nature (clean air, water, earth, trees, etc.)… valued? We seem to have much work to do regarding long-term values in the face of existential threats, as the UN’s COP28 has shown us. Thanks to Chloe Hill, who pointed to a website that makes nature’s values visible: https://teebweb.org. This organization provides “a structured approach to valuation that helps decision-makers recognize the wide range of benefits provided by ecosystems and biodiversity, demonstrate their values in economic terms and, where appropriate, capture those values in decision-making.” They have interesting case studies, including using ‘natural capital accounting’ valuation of ecosystem services in South Africa. While the new Footprint Evaluation evaluates environmental sustainability in a very (too?) complex way, we need to evaluate the harm avoided and how to set a price for it; that is what Impact investors need.

 

We must address such finance questions arising from COP28 regarding how nature and the climate are monitored, evaluated, and valued economically. How should people in finance cost out benefits from not harming the climate and people? For instance, how do we value lungs not being hurt by smoke by using clean cookstoves? I have looked into ‘measuring externalities’ in the economics literature, and the best article I have found so far from 1980 is Measuring Externalities and Second Best Distortions in the Theory of Local Public Goods by Starrett, but the methods are theoretical and not (yet?) useable by today’s investors.

 

Feedback and advice? Email me at Jindra@ValuingVoices.com, please… Happy Holidays 2023 and Happy 2024!