Hard-wiring and Soft-wiring in Sustainability via health program examples

Hard-wiring and Soft-wiring in Sustainability via health program examples: by Laurence Desvignes and Jindra Cekan/ova

Overview

We all want things to last. Most of us joined the ‘sustainable development’ industry hoping our foreign aid projects not only do good while we are there but long afterward. Following on last month’s blog on better learning about project design, implementation, and M&E, here are some things to do better.

Long-term sustainability rests on four pillars: the first rests on how the project is designed and implemented before exit and the second is to what degree conditions are needed for the continuation of results the project generated are put into place. While the first one embeds sustainability into its very results, the second invests in processes to foster the continuation of results. The other two of the four pillars, returning to see what lasts by evaluating the sustainability of results two or more years later and bringing those lessons back to funding, design, implementation, and building in shock-resilience, e.g., such as to climate change, are in other Valuing Voices blogs.

We focus on 1 and 2 in this blog, and use an analogy of hard-wiring and soft-wiring sustainability into the fabric of the project:

  1. Hardwiring, ‘baking-in’ sustainability involves the design/ implementation which predisposes results lasting. This includes investing in Maternal Child Health and Nutrition’s first 1000 days from conception to age two that are vital for child development. The baby’s physical development and nutrition are so important as is maternal well-being. Investing in these early days leads to better health and nutrition throughout their lives. So too are buying local. Too often our projects rely on imported technology and inputs that are hard to replace if broken. A project on hand pumps used by UNICEF suggested local purchase of those “designed to optimize the chances of obtaining good quality hand pumps and an assured provision of spare parts” involves both the hardware of the pump and also the “capacity building plan and a communication strategy.” Also using local capacity/specialists when available vs external consultants can also be key to building the sustainability of a project.

Another example of baking-in sustainability is using participatory approaches to ensure that those implementing- such as the communities/ local authorities. In this example, it’s grassroots where participants are heard during design in terms of their priorities and how the project should be implemented. This includes targeting discussions and monitoring and evaluation being done with and by communities. The seminal research of 6,000 interviews with aid recipients, Time to Listen, found that they want to participate and when they do, things are more likely to be sustained, rather than being passive recipients…. there is ex-post proof such programming is more ‘owned’ and more sustained.

Conducting in-depth needs assessments at design is usually the way to collect information about what is needed and how projects should be implemented to last. Unfortunately, very often, the time is very limited for the proposal development and (I)NGOs are under pressure of short deadlines to submit the proposal, and needs assessments are either done quickly, collecting very basic information or not done at all. Yet time spent valuing the voices of participants can bring great richness. In 2022, the UN’s FAO did a monitoring and evaluation study in Malawi validating indicators for poverty by asking communities how they identify it from the start. “Researchers were impressed at how accurately the people they interviewed were able to gauge the relative wealth of their neighbors.” We were not surprised as the locals often know best.   Another example with Mines Advisory Group in Cambodia, we developed a community-based participatory approach for design whereby project staff would work with the mine-affected communities to draw local maps of their villages, highlighting the location of the dangerous places and the key areas/places used by the communities. Staff and communities discussed the constraints, risks, needs, etc. to make their community safer, which the project would follow up with risk education, clearance, victim assistance, and/or alternative economic /development solutions to make the community safer. Other mine action agencies, e.g. Danish Refugee Council (Danish Demining Group) are also now using safer community approaches, involving local residents to decide on how to make their village safer depending on the community priorities[1].

Hardwiring in participatory feedback-loop learning from locals during implementation is also key. Implementation of a community feedback strategy once the programme is running is also essential. The community feedback mechanism (CFM) is a formal system established to enable affected populations to communicate information on their views, concerns, and experiences of a humanitarian agency or of the wider humanitarian system. It systematically captures, records, tracks, and follows up on the feedback it receives to improve elements of a response. CFM is key to ensuring that people affected by crisis have access to avenues to hold humanitarian actors to account; to offer affected people a formalized structure for raising concerns if they feel their needs are not being met, or if the assistance provided is having any unintended and harmful consequences;  to understand and solicit information on their experience of a humanitarian agency or response; as part of a broader commitment to quality and accountability that enables organizations to recognize and respond to any failures in response; to promote the voices and influence of people affected so their perspectives, rights, and priorities remain at the forefront of humanitarian/development work[2].

Promoting and implementing community engagement, such as a community feedback strategy, provides a basis for dialogue with people affected on what is needed and on how what is needed might best be provided, especially as needs change during implementation. This will help identify priority needs and is a means to gauge beneficiaries’ understanding of activities being carried out, to assist in the identification of local partners and establishment and follow-up of partnerships, and in the organizational development and capacity building of local institutions and authorities. It can strengthen the quality of assistance by facilitating dialogue and meaningful exchange between aid agencies and affected people at all stages of humanitarian response and result in the empowerment of those involved. Targeted people are viewed as social actors that can play an active role in decisions affecting their lives.

OXFAM’s project in Haiti starting in 2012 came as a result of a cholera epidemic that began in 2010 (“Preventing the Cholera Epidemic by Improving WASH Services and Promoting Hygiene in the North and Northeast”), whose goal was to contribute to the cholera elimination, experimented with the community feedback strategy as a means of gauging the recipients’ understanding of the activities carried out and of further strengthening the links between OXFAM and the communities during implementation. The initial process of community feedback was intended to both receive recommendations from project participants for better management of the action and also to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of Oxfam interventions. Based on the information and recommendations applied, OXFAM served as a bridge between the community and the actors involved (e.g. private firm contracted to carry out some health centers/ water systems renovation work or other) in the implementation of the project. This is also part of Oxfam’s logic of placing more emphasis on the issue of accountability and community engagement.

The feedback-loop benefits of such a community process are manyfold, especially on Protection, human rights, risk management, and further below, adapting Implementation, M&E, and fostering organizational learning:

  • CFMs assist in promoting the well-being, rights, and protection of people by offering them a platform to have a voice and be heard
  • it fosters participation, transparency, and trust
  • It uses Do No Harm and conflict-sensitive programming
  • It helps identify staff misconduct
  • It functions as a risk management and early warning system

Adapting Implementation and Improving M&E:

  • This process makes it possible to adapt to the priorities of the beneficiaries, to better meet their needs hence ensuring the agency’s accountability to the affected population
  • It facilitates and guarantees a better quality of the project.
  • It represents a means of monitoring our approaches and our achievements.
  • It makes it possible to construct a common vision shared between the various actors and the project participants/targeted communities.

Organizational Learning:

  • Ensuring the programme quality and accountability through the establishment of an appropriate accountability strategy (including Transparency, Feedback, Participation, Monitoring, and Effectiveness) and relevant methodologies and tools (since the planning stage of the project) is a key exercise which allow to think and plan for the sustainability of the programme at an early stage.
  • It allows us to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the interventions while offering us the opportunity to learn from our experiences, hence allowing for programmatic learning and adaptative programming.
  • It conveys the impact of the project and the change brought about in the lives of the beneficiaries.
  • It is part of the logic of capitalizing on experiences to improve the quality of future projects.

 

2. Soft-wiring is creating conditions to make sustainability more likely for local communities and partners by thinking about how to replace what has been brought by the projects’ donors and implementers. This involves an analysis as well as actions that put conditions for sustainability into place before and during the time that foreign aid projects close. Valuing Voices’ checklists for exiting sustainably involves local ownership, sufficient capacities, and resources, viable partnerships, how well risks such as climate and economic shocks were identified and managed, and benchmarking for success 1-2 years before closure. Later it is important to return to check findings at ex-post project, comparing completion results to what was sustained 2-30 years later.

There are four categories of sustainability-fostering actions to do pre-exit which were identified by Rogers and Coates of Tufts for USAID for sustained exit:

  1. RESOURCES:

Several blogs on Valuing Voices deal with resources, including assumptions donors make. Donor resource investments cannot be assumed to be sustained.  The checklists outline a wide array of questions to ask during design and latest a year pre-exit, including what assumptions do aid projects make?  USAID water/ sanitation/ hygiene investments have mostly not been sustained, due to a combination of lack of resources to maintain them and low ownership of the resources invested.   Some key questions are:

  • Did the project consider how those taking over the project would get sufficient resources, e.g., grant funding or other income generation available or renting out their facility or infrastructure that they own or shift some of their activities to for-profit production, sold to cover part of project costs?
  • Does the project or partner have a facility or infrastructure that they own and is rentable to increase resources outside donor funding or can the project shift to for-profit, including institutional and individual in-kind products or technical knowledge skills that can be sold to cover part of project costs?
  • What new equipment is needed, e.g. computers, vehicles, technical (e.g. weighing scales) for activities to continue, and which stakeholder will retain them?
  • Or even no resources are needed because some project activities will scale down, move elsewhere, focus on a smaller number of activities that are locally sustainable, or the whole project will naturally phase-out)

2. PARTNERSHIPS:

The objective of that Oxfam project was to reduce the risks of communities placed in a situation of acute vulnerability to the cholera epidemic in two departments in Haiti (where about 1.5 million inhabitants reside). It focused on sustainability by effectively supporting and accompanying governmental WASH and health structures in the rapid response to alerts and outbreaks recorded in the targeted communities. How? Through awareness-raising activities among the populations concerned, by strengthening the epidemiological surveillance system and coordination between concerned stakeholders. The project also aimed to improve drinking water structures such as drinking water distribution points, drinking water networks or systems, catchments, and boreholes.  As part of this intervention, Oxfam worked in close collaboration and in support of the Departmental Directorates of Health (DH), DINEPA (government services responsible for water and sanitation), and local authorities at the level of cities, towns and neighborhoods, and community structures including civil protection teams.   Oxfam and DINEPA staff intervened through mixed mobile response teams that included technical and managerial staff from the health department to whom Oxfam provided ongoing technical support in terms of WASH analysis and actions, WASH training, finance training, and monitoring, as well as logistical support for the deployment of teams in the field (provision of vehicles and drivers). Oxfam was therefore working to ensure that cholera surveillance and mitigation actions were led by state and community actors, and by supporting state structures to build their capacities and allow ownership of the various aspects of the fight against cholera.   Concretely, this was done as follows:

  • Preliminary meetings and discussions were held with concerned governmental authorities to agree on a plan of action based on needs, implementation means, priorities, and budget for the health and wash governmental services/teams to be able to function. This was followed by the signature of an MoU between Oxfam and the Departmental Directorates of Health (DH).
  • An action plan was set up with the DH and DINEPA (governmental water and sanitation agency) at the very beginning of the project.
  • Outbreak response teams were managed directly by the DH and the staff was recruited, managed, and paid by the DH. The DH and DINEPA implemented the activities, managed the staff of the mobile teams, and provide technical monitoring in coordination with Oxfam.
  • The epidemiological monitoring activities carried out by the DH were also monitored by the Oxfam epidemiologist who, in close coordination with the DH, built the capacities of epidemiologists and staff at the departmental level and at the level of the treatment centers to ensure adequate monitoring and communication.
  • An Oxfam social engineering officer worked with DINEPA to ensure that the various water committees at the sources/infrastructure rehabilitated by Oxfam were functional. Sources/infrastructures were rehabilitated in concert with DINEPA to ensure the proper ownership.
  • Oxfam provided funding, and technical supervision and wrote and submitted the final report to the donor. Based on DH’s regular reports on activities which were then consolidated by Oxfam for the donor.
  • Teams were paid directly by the DH from funds received by Oxfam, based on the budget agreed by both Oxfam and the DH, and were based on government salary scales.
  • The Oxfam WASH team, which systematically accompanies case investigations in the field, further encouraged the participation of DINEPA and its community technicians, through regular meetings with the DINEPA departmental directors.
  • Overall, Oxfam ensured to provide support and capacity building of the DH, DINEPA, and community actors involved in the fight against cholera, to ensure proper ownership and to avoid substitution of the health/wash authorities.

3. OWNERSHIP:

The type of peer-partnering at design and during implementation described above is vital for ownership and sustainability. Unless we consider people’s ownership of the project and capacities to sustain results, they won’t be sustained. See Cekan’s exiting for sustainability checklists on phasing over before phasing out and exit, strengthening ownership, which brings us full circle to the participatory hard-wiring described above in Haiti.

4. CAPACITIES-STRENGTHENING

We have to strengthen capacities at the most sustainable level. Taking an example from IRC’s Sierra Leone Gender-based Violence project involves looking at what happens when capacities training done for local participants and partners to take over are not done right. In this case, there were two-year consultancies to the Ministry (MSWGCA) on strategic planning and gender training, but “it is not clear if this type of support has had a sustainable impact. The institutional memory often disappears with the departure of the consultant, leaving behind sophisticated and extensive plans and strategies that there is simply no capacity to implement.” The report found that community-based initiatives that are the “primary sources of support for GBV victims living in rural areas in a more innovative and sustainable way that promotes local ownership. They also may yield more results,” most donor agencies find it hard to partner with community-based organizations so they recommended a focus on training and capacity-building of mainstream health workers to respond to GBV and aim for the government will assume control of service provision in approximately five years. The excellent manual by Sarriot et al on Sustainability Planning, “Taking the Long View: A Practical Guide to Sustainability Planning and Measurement in Community-Oriented Health Programming puts local capacity strengthening at the core. We have to consult and collaborate throughout and create an ‘enabling environment’ so that the activities and results are theirs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Sarriot et al 2008

Obviously, we should check on the sustainability we hope for. As ITAD/CRS note, we should do and learn from more ex-post evaluations which is much of what Valuing Voices advocates for.

 

Recommendations for fostering sustainability:

Few donors require information on how hard-wired or how soft-wired programming pre-exit is at closure which would make sustainability likely. Even fewer demand actual post-closure sustainability data to confirm assumptions at exit, sadly we believe most of our foreign aid has had limited sustained impacts. But this can change.   Donors need to be educated that the “localization” agenda is the new trend (just as gender, resilience, and climate change have been at one point). It is beyond the “nationalization” of staff members (e.g. replacing expatriates with national staff), which is only one of the elements relating to locallization. True localization is to promote the local leadership of communities in their own ‘sustainable development’. While this is easier to say than to do, sustainability depends on it. We foster it through the hard-wiring and soft-wiring we discussed above and more steps, below.   Here are specific steps from Laurence’s and Jindra’s experiences with the Global South:

  • Funds & additional time for local partnership and ownership need to be embedded in the design and planned for, which requires a different approach on which the donors also need to be sensitized/ educated/ advocated to;
  • In-depth needs assessment must be carried out just before or when an NGO sets up an operation – it usually takes time and should be integrated into any operation. Advocating this approach to donors is key so that it can be included in the budget or the NGO needs to find its own funds to do so) and the NGO country and sector strategy can then be updated yearly to embed such activities into the (I)NGO DNA;
  • Conduct a capacity strengthening assessment of the local authorities or partners with whom we are going to conduct the project. This can take between 3 to 6 months, depending on the number and type of actors involved but this is an essential element to build self-sustaining local capacities and ensure that comprehensive capacity building is going to take place. This transparent step is also an essential step to ensure ownership by national/governmental stakeholders;
  • It is vital to allow time to plan for an exit strategy at an early stage, even as early as design. This requires time and needs to be included in the budget for the implementation of the plan at least one year before the end, for phasing over to local implementing partners to take over before the donors/ Global North implementers exit, and for possibly strengthening capacities or extending programming to deliver on their timeline rather than ours before exiting out. More on this from CRS’ Participation by All ex-post and of course the oft-cited “Stopping As Success: Locally-led Transitions in Development” by Peace Direct, Search for Common Ground, and CDA. Also do not forget shared leadership noted by UK’s INTRAC’s “Investing in Exit”;
  • Finally, don’t forget about evaluating ex-posts and embedding those lessons into future design/ implementation/ monitoring and evaluation.

  Investing in sustainability by hard-wiring or soft-wiring works! Let us know what you do…      

[1] https://drc.ngo/our-work/what-we-do/core-sectors/humanitarian-disarmament-and-peacebuilding/

[2] https://www.drc.ngo/media/vzlhxkea/drc_global-cfm-guidance_web_low-res.pdf

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

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

By Jindra Cekan


Solar panels in Cap Haitien, Haiti.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

The numbers are staggering:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Cekan 3
A small enterprise in Cap Haitien, Haiti.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

References

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

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

Face our fears! Learn from failure…

Face our fears! Learn from failure…

Global Giving has a nice example about getting participant feedback success/ failrure of a project their fundraising funded. The organization failed which was sorrowful to the players in West Africa and funders worldwide (I too am a soccer-mom). Yes, it failed. It is hard to read those words and all involved faced it and they learned from it. Thanks to a sprited discussion on Pelican Platform for Evidence-based Learning about a plethora of unintended impacts, I learned about the organization committed to learning from failures: Admitting Failure.  

 

Maybe some of you have heard of FailFests, such as the one in Raleigh N.C US this year that answered "Why are we doing this?" with "We’re on a mission to erase the stigma around failure. The more we talk about it, the more we can learn from it. Failure doesn’t have to be fatal!" You may know Engineers without Borders Canada has been an early proponent of "openly acknowledging failure is often a catalyst for innovation that takes our work from good to great."  Such examples are heartening, especially for participatory sustainability evaluation.

Admitting_Failure___Engineers_Without_Borders_Canada

In 2014 a met a fellow evaluator at the American Evaluation Association Conference where I was presenting on Post-Project Sustainability Evaluation. They told me their organization was waiting for a really successful project to end so they could evaluate its sustainability. Another evaluator told me of a post-project evaluation that was hidden away, unpublished, after findings were negative. And that's where the problem lies: our international development industry's neurosis about presenting anything unsuccessful.

 

No wonder so few projects have been evaluated post-project, as we fear:


* What if activities and outcomes aren't sustained (note: we didn't design them that way, often we opt for quicker wins achievable only with large resource inflows of funds and technical help)?

 

* What if our funders find out that funds had limited impact or partners had no means to continue good programming?

 

* What if we had entirely unintended impacts that favored some over others (well beyond our expected logical frameworks and Theories of Change)?

 

Hallelujah 🙂 Why can't we see this as good news that propels us to improve our projects by listening to what worked? To learn not to do what didn't work again?! To design in locally sustainable ways now that we have learned?


* What if we learn that our resources and empowerment led them to succeed on their own terms in ways we couldn't imagine, far exceeding the planned impacts we had expected?

 

* What if we find that unexpected outcomes showcased ways groups within communities stood on their feet, making development work for them on their terms?

 

Would we design and implement, monitor and evaluate projects differently? We'll see. Organizations such as USAID’s Food for Peace funded a four-country study on exit-strategies (forthcoming 2015), are looking at success and failure. Catholic Relief Services hired Valuing Voices to do sustainability evaluation in Africa. Others may follow…

 

Post-project sustainability evaluations expose us to learning the full range. Let's be brave and ask, learn and innovate, making aid and philanthropy more effective, and learn from failure for success!

It’s not just Me, it’s We

It's not just Me, it's We

Many of us want to be of service. That's why we go into international development, government, and many other fields. We hope our words and deeds help make others' lives better.

 

For 25 years I've written proposals, designed and evaluated projects, knowing that while I could not live in-country due to my family constraints, I could get resources there and help us learn how well they are used.  I became a consultant so I could raise my kids without being on the road 60% of the time, one who promotes national consultants so that African, Asian, Latin American and European experts evaluate their own projects. I put myself into the shoes of our participants and realized any local person my age wants to leave behind a better, more sustainably viable livelihood for her family, so I looked to see what was most sustained and how we knew it. I took my love of participatory approaches of listening to and learning from the end-users and founded Valuing Voices to promote learning from projects whose activities were most self-sustained. 

 

Yet this is not enough. I am one person with only my views (however great I think they are :), many of us have great views and knowledge about how to best promote sustainable development. For the state of things today seem to me that too often our donors have limited funds for limited time with goals that they limit because they can only assure success by holding the outcome and funding reins so tightly that none of us are fostering self-sustainable development which takes time, faith in one's participants. I have found that the lack of post-project evaluation (see ValuingVoices.com/blogs such as this one on causes and conditions being ripe for sustainability) is a symptom but doing them also provides a huge opportunity to design projects well learning from what communities were able to sustain themselves, based on why/how it worked and how can we do this well again? For instance, from my fieldwork I have realized that questions such as ‘sustainable by whom for how long’ are ones I never asked and don’t think others have ways to go about it well (yet)… unless you have ideas!

How can we foster aid effectiveness, effective philanthropy, community-driven-development, community-driven and NGO-led impact , and effective policy? It takes many of us – giraffes, ostriches, wliderbeast, gazelles, each with our own expertise.

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This takes Time to Listen, respect for local capacities (Doing Development Differently) and an openness to step out of the limelight of 'we saved you' to asking "how can we best work together for a sustainable world?". This takes you, me, WE. One way is to join together in a LinkedIn Group: Sustainable Solutions for Excellent Impact  where we can discuss how can we best design, implement, evaluate, fund, promote (etc!) projects well that are programmatically, financially, institutionally and environmentally sustainable. Please join us!