Sustainability of what and how do we know? Measuring projects, programs, policies…

On my way to present at the European Evaluation Society’s annual conference, I wanted to close the loop on the Nordic and Netherlands ex-post analysis. The reason is, that we’ll be discussing the intersection of different ways to evaluate ‘sustainability’ over the long- and short-term, and how we’re transforming evaluation systems. The session on Friday morning is called “Long- And Short-Term Dilemmas In Sustainability Evaluations” (Cekan, Bodnar, Hermans, Meyer, and Patterson). We come from academia as professors, consultancies to International organizations, International/ national non-profits, and our European (Dutch, German, Czech), South African, and American governments. We’ll discuss it as a ‘fishbowl’ of ideas.

The session’s abstract adds the confounding factor of program vs project versus portfolio-wide evaluations all-around sustainability.

Details on our session are below and why I’m juxtaposing it to the Nordic and Netherlands ex-posts in detail, comes next. As we note in our EES ’22 session description, “One of the classic complications in sustainability is dealing with short-term – long-term dilemmas. Interventions take place in a local and operational setting, affecting the daily lives of stakeholders. Sustainability is at stake when short-term activities are compromising the long-term interests of these stakeholders and future generations, for instance, due to a focus on the achievement of shorter-term results rather than ensuring durable impacts for participants… Learning about progress towards the SDGs or the daunting task of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, for instance, requires more than nationally and internationally agreed indicator-systems, country monitoring, and reporting and good intentions.”

But there are wider ambitions for most sustainability activities undertaken by a range of donors, policy actors, project implementers, and others: Sustainability “needs to span both human-social and natural-ecological systems’ time scales. Furthermore, long-term sustainability, in the face of climate change and SDGs, demands a dynamic view, with due attention for complexity, uncertainty, resilience, and systemic transformation pathways…. the need for a transformation of current evaluation systems – seeing them as nested or networked systems… Their focus may range from focused operational projects to the larger strategic programmes of which these projects are part, to again the larger policies that provide the context or drivers for these programmes. Analogue to these nested layers runs a time dimension, from the short-term projects (months to years), to multi-year programmes, to policies with outlooks of a decade or more.” 

When Preston did his research in 2020-21 which I oversaw, we focused on the projects precisely because that is where we believe ‘impact’ happens in a measurable way by participants and partners. Yet we found that many defined their parameters differently. Preston writes, “This paper focuses on what such research [on projects evaluated at least 2 years post-closure] yielded, not definitive findings of programs or multi-year country strategies that are funded for 20-30 years continuously, nor projects funded by country-level embassies which did not feature on the Ministry site. We focus on project bilateral project evaluations, not multilateral funding of sectors. We also …received input that Sweden’s EBA has a (non-project [not ex-post] portfolio of ‘country evaluations’ which looked back over 10 or even 20-year time horizons

So we present these compiled detailed studies on the Netherlands, Norway, Finland,  Sweden, and Denmark for your consideration. Can we arrive at a unified definition of ‘sustainability’ or imagine a unified ‘sustainability evaluation’ definition and scope? I hope so, will let you know after EES this week! What do you think, is it possible?

Aid providers: More puzzle pieces, including unexpected outcomes; ours is not the whole picture

Aid providers: More puzzle pieces, including unexpected outcomes; ours is not the whole picture

When we did our first ex-post evaluation/ delayed final evaluation in 2006 in Niger for Lutheran World Relief (LWR) funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (pg75 on), we found all sorts of unexpected/ unintended outcomes and impacts that far outweighed the original aid’s expectations. The project measured success by the livelihoods rebuilding post-drought ravaged sheep herds and water points for them. Instead, while the LWR aid was beautifully based on ‘habbanaye,’ a pastoralist practice of lending or giving small-stock offspring to poorer family members (and was expanded to passing on animals to poorer community members), and results showed a majority of the poor benefitted, our respondents showed it was far more nuanced. We aid providers (and our expectations) are only a part of any ‘impact’, which needs to be defined by the communities themselves:

  • While many families benefitted from the sheep, enabling some young boys to shepherd several at a time, it turns out the poorest chosen by the communities were not necessarily ones who lost small livestock during the drought but were, in fact, the ultra-poor who had never had them. Therefore, proof of successful ‘restocking’ post-drought left these poor who were helped the most, out, as they were… unexpected;
  • Holding onto the donated sheep was not as important an indicator for some: one woman told us that selling her aid-received sheep to buy her daughter dowry to marry a wealthier husband was a far better investment for their financial future than the sheep would have been. Our main measure of success was not nuanced enough;
  • The provision of water through well-rehabilitation and building in the five villages was a vital resource. Women reported they saved 8 hours every two days by having potable water in their villages. Before then, they spent three hours walking each way to the far-off well and waited two hours to fetch 50l water, which they head-carried back. With the well in place, they generated household income through weaving mats, cooking food for sale, etc., which amounted to as much as 20% of increased household income – a boon! Also, having both time and water access enabled them to bathe themselves and their children, make their husbands lunch, and make their mothers-in-law tea, which led to far more household harmony. No ‘impact’ measures outside of livestock and water were included or could be added;
  • Finally, the resulting show-stopper: in the last village where we interviewed women participants, they said that the groups of fellow recipients were a boon for community solidarity across ethnic groups. In their meetings, thanks to the sheep, water, and collective moral support, they said the conversations turned from conflict to collaboration, and best of all, women reported, “our husbands don’t beat us anymore.” Peace among ethnic groups, within and between households was completely unexpected.

Such a highly unexpected outcome would fall under #2 and #4 of the Netherlands study below. Unfortunately, the Foundation seemed less interested in these unexpected but stellar results. Yet at the same time I have empathy for their position, as so many of us in global development want to help solve problems, and demand proof we have.…. so we can leave and help others, equally deserving. Taking complexity into account, seeing lives in a wider context where our aid can be helping differently or even harming makes garnering more aid hard.

As the brilliant Time to Listen series by CDA showed, aid intervenes in people’s lives in complex ways and we need to listen to our participants and partners who always share more complex views than our reports can honor..A few  of hundreds of quotes of 6000 interviews, this from the Solomon Islands:

Some appreciate the aid as it is given:

“People in my village are very grateful for the road because now with trucks coming into our village, the women can now take their vegetables to the market. Before, the tomatoes just rotted in the gardens. Tomatoes go bad quickly and despite our attempts in the past to take them to the market to sell, we always lost.” Woman from East Malaita

But for others there are great caveats:

“Donors should send their officers to Solomon Islands to implement activities in urban and rural areas. This will help them understand the difficulties we often face with people, environment, culture, geography, etc. ‘no expectem evri ting bae stret’ [Don’t expect everything to go right].” Man, Honiara

“They have their own charters, sometimes we might want to go another way but they don’t want to touch that. So sometimes there is some conflict there; some projects are not really what we would like to address – because the donors only want to do one component, and not another, because it is sensitive, or because they want quick results and to get out.” Government official, Honiara

“What changes have I noticed since independence? Whatever development you see here is due to individual struggles. No single aid program is sustainable. NGOs are created by donors and are comfortable with who they know. NGOs eat up the bulk of help intended for the communities. NGOs become international employers. They do their own thing in our province. Most projects have no impact. I want to say stop all aid except for education and health. If international assistance concentrates on quality education and health, the educated and healthy people will take care of themselves.” Government official, Auki, Malaita

“The most important impacts of aid people do not think about – they are not listed, not planned, they are remote, but these are the longest lasting. Often they are the opposite of the stated objectives. So remote, unintended, unexpected impacts are very often more important and more lasting and more dramatic than the short term intended, measured ones.” Aid consultant, Honiara

How widespread is our myopic focus on our intended results? A recent Netherlands Foreign Aid IOB study found unintended effects were an evaluator’s blindspot as across 664 evaluations over 20 years, “The ‘text miners’ found that only 1 in 6 IOB evaluation documents pay attention to unintended effects.” This dearth of attention to all the other things happening in projects led to 10 micro, macro, meso, and multiple level effects, from negative price effects such as food aid on local food producers or nationalist backlash to Afghan projects to positive effects (they found 40% of projects had this) such as a harbor built happening to expand beach tourism as well. 

But if we don’t look for such effects, we don’t know the true impact of our aid programming. We also don’t honor the breadth of people’s lives rather than just as narrow ‘aid beneficiaries’ (ugh), not even honoring them with the terms’ participants’ much less ‘partners’ in their own development).

In our ex-post work, we find a wide array of ways ownership and implementation of activities is done after donors leave and without additional or with different resources, capacities, and partnerships. Taking emerging outcomes and impacts examples from a different Niger project, and one from Nepal:

1. Partnerships Ownership: Half of the members of the all-women Village Banks reported helping one another deal with domestic disputes and violence. (Pact/Nepal)

2. Capacities: Trained local women charged rates to sell course materials onward (PACT/Nepal)

3. OwnershipParticipants valued clinic-based birthing and sustained it by introducing locally-created social punishments and incentives (CRS/Niger)

4. Resources: New Ministry funding reallocated to sustain [health] investments, and private traders generated large crop purchases and contracts (CRS/Niger)

The assets and capacities we bring to help people and their country systems help only a sliver of their lives, and often in unexpected ways that sadly we aid donors and implementers don’t seem interested in.  There are other puzzle pieces to add…

Let us not forget, as a Sustainable Development Goals Evaluation colleague said in 2017 on a call:

I am sure you, my dear colleagues, have reams of similar findings from your fieldwork. Please share yours!

Upcoming Jan Webinar: Lessons from Nordic / the Netherlands’ ex-post project evaluations: 14 Jan 2021

Upcoming Webinar: Lessons from Nordic / the

Netherlands’ ex-post project evaluations: 14 Jan 2021

In June-August 2020, Preston Stewart, our Valuing Voices intern, conducted through government databases of the four Nordic countries – Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark – and the Netherlands to identify ex-post evaluations of government-sponsored projects. The findings and recommendations for action are detailed in a four-part white paper series, beginning with a paper called The Search.

We would like to invite you to a presentation of our findings, and a discussion of what can be learned about:

1) the search process,

2) how ex-post evaluations are defined and categorized,

3) what was done well by each country’s ex-posts,

4) sustainability-related findings and lessons, and

5) what M&E experts in each country can improve on ex-post evaluation practices.

One big finding is that there were only 32 evaluations that seemed to be ex-post project, and only 1/2 of them actually were at least 2 years after project closure.

 

We have many more lessons about conflicting definitions, that ex-post evaluation is not the norm in the evaluations processes of the five governments, that development programs could, if committed to ex-post evaluation, learn about sustainability by engaging with the findings from many more such evaluations, and to increase accountability to the public and for transparent learning, ex-post evaluations should be shared in public, easy-to-access online repositories.

Join us!

REGISTER: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/webinar-lessons-from-nordic-the-netherlands-ex-post-project-evaluations-tickets-132856426147 

Your ticket purchase entitles you to the webinar, its meeting recording, associated documents, and online Sustainability Network membership for resources and discussion. Payment on a sliding, pay-as-you-can scale.

Interview repost: Why Measure & Evaluate Corporate Sustainability Projects?

Interview repost: Why Measure & Evaluate Corporate Sustainability Projects?

A CSR firm in Central Europe asked me to talk about sustainability, evaluation, and Corporate Social Responsibility. We had a terrific interview – please click thru to: https://www.besmarthead.com/cs/media/post/smartheadtalks-2-jindra-cekan-eng

 

 

The topics we discussed include:

* Sustainability in CSR involves value creation through benefits-creation for both companies and consumers

* Projects feeding into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals may not be sustained over the long-term and we must return to evaluate what could be sustained and what emerged ex-post

* Scale measurable and meaningful impact investment through the transformation of development nonprofits’ programming + approach

* Three activities in sustainability that companies can start doing right away, that you would recommend to any company anywhere in the world

And Very Happy Holidays to all… may our lives and world be more sustainable in 2021….

 

 

Reblog: ITAD/CRS “Lessons from an ex-post evaluation – and why we should do more of them”

Reblog: ITAD/CRS “Lessons from an ex-post evaluation – and why we should do more of them”

Reposted from: https://www.itad.com/article/lessons-from-an-ex-post-evaluation-and-why-we-should-do-more-of-them/

Even as evaluation specialists, rarely do we get the chance to carry out ex-post evaluations. We recently carried out an ex-post evaluation of Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Expanding Financial Inclusion (EFI) programme and believe we’ve found some key lessons that make the case for more ex-post evaluations.

We’ll be sharing learning from the evaluation alongside CRS colleagues at the Savings Led Working Group session on Members Day of the SEEP Annual Conference – so pop by if you would like to learn more.

What is an ex-post evaluation?

Ex-post evaluations are (by definition) done after the project has closed. There is no hard and fast rule on exactly when an ex-post evaluation should be done but as the aim of an ex-post evaluations is to assess the sustainability of results and impacts, usually some time will need to have passed to make this assessment.

A little bit about EFI

EFI was a Mastercard Foundation-funded program in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Zambia and Uganda whose core goal was to ensure that vulnerable households experienced greater financial inclusion. Within EFI, Private Service Providers (PSPs) formed and facilitated savings groups using CRS’ Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) methodology, with the SILC groups responsible for paying the PSP a small fee for the services that they provide.

This payment is intended to improve sustainability by incentivising the groups’ facilitators to form and train new groups, as well as providing continued support to existing groups, beyond the end of the project.

A little bit about the evaluation

So, if the aim of the PSP model is sustainability, you need an evaluation that can test this! Evaluation at the end of project implementation can assess indications of results that might be sustained into the future. However, if you wait until some time has passed after activities have ended, then there is much clearer evidence on which activities and results are ongoing – and how likely these are to continue. Uganda was also a great test case for the evaluation because CRS hadn’t provided any follow-on support.

Our evaluation set out to assess the extent to which the EFI-trained PSPs and their SILC groups were still functioning 19 months after the programme ended and the extent to which the PSP model had contributed to the sustainability of activities and results.

What the ex-post evaluation found

We found a handful of findings that were only possible because it was an ex-post evaluation:

  • There were 56% more reported groups among the sampled PSPs at the time of data collection than there were at the end of the project.
  • Half of the PSP networks established within the sample are still functioning (to some extent).
  • PSPs continued to receive remuneration for the work that they did, 19 months after project closure. However, there were inconsistencies in frequency and scale of remuneration, as well as variation in strategies to sensitize communities on the need to pay.

This only covers a fraction of the findings but we were able to conclude that the PSP model appeared to be highly sustainable. The evaluation also found that there were challenges to sustainability which could be addressed in future delivery of the PSP model. Significantly, the PSP model was designed with sustainability in mind – and this evaluation provides good evidence that PSPs were still operating 19 months after the end of the project.

What made the evaluation possible

We get it. It isn’t always easy to do ex-post evaluations. Evaluations are usually included in donor-implementer contracts, which end shortly after the project ends, leaving implementers without the resources to go back and evaluate 18 months later. This often results in a lack of funding and an absence of project staff. This is also combined with new projects starting up, obscuring opportunities for project-specific findings and learning as it’s not possible to attribute results to a specific project.

In many ways, we were lucky. Itad implements the Mastercard Foundations Savings Learning Lab, a six-year initiative that supports learning among the Foundation’s savings sector portfolio programmes – including EFI. EFI closed in the Learning Lab’s second year and with support from the Foundation and enthusiasm from CRS, we set aside some resource to continue this learning post-project. So, we had funding!

We also worked with incredibly motivated ex-EFI, CRS staff who made time to actively engage in the evaluation process and facilitate links to the PSP network, PSPs and SILC group members. So, we had the people!

And, no-one had implemented a similar PSP model in supported districts of Uganda since the end of EFI. So, we were also able to attribute!

Why we should strive to do more ex-post evaluations

Despite these challenges, and recognising it isn’t always easy, doesn’t mean it is not possible. And with projects like EFI where sustainability was central to its model, we would say it’s essential to assess whether the programme worked and how the model can be improved.

Unfortunately, practitioners and evaluators can shout all we like but the onus is on funders. We need funders to carve out dedicated resource for ex-post evaluations. This is even more important for programmes that have the development of replicable and sustainable models at their core. For some projects, this can be anticipated – and planned for – at project design stage. Other projects may show promise for learning on sustainability, unexpectedly, during implementation. Dedicated funding pots or call-down contracts for ex-post evaluations are just a couple of ways donors might be able to resource ex-post evaluations when there is a clear need for additional learning on the sustainability project results.

This learning should lead to better decision making, more effective use of donor funds and ultimately, more sustainable outcomes for beneficiaries.”

Other Findings:

Some of the other findings of this report on Financial Inclusion are:

RESOURCES: “Finding 1.iii. PSPs continue to receive remuneration for the work that they do; however, there are inconsistencies in frequency and scale of remuneration, as well as variety in strategies to sensitize communities on the need to pay.”

CAPACITIES: “Finding 3.ii. All networks included a core function of “collaboration, information-sharing and problemsolving”; however, networks were not sufficiently supported or incentivized to fulfill complex functions, such as PSP quality assurance or consumer protection, and their coverage area and late implementation limited the continued functioning of networks.”

PARTNERSHIP: “Finding 2.i. Only four of the 24 groups are clearly linked with other stakeholders and two were supported by EFI to create these linkages.”

Consider doing one!

Interactive Webinar: Sustained Exit? Prove it or Improve it! (Nov 6 2020)

Sustained Exit? Prove it or Improve it!

(reposted from Medium https://jindracekan.medium.com/sustained-exit-prove-it-or-improve-it-702ac507e2a5)

Do we exit global development projects knowing our impacts are sustained? We hope so. As Professor Bea Rogers of Tufts said after evaluating 12 projects 2 years post-closure ( https://www.fsnnetwork.org/resource/exit-strategies-study), “ Hope is Not a Strategy”, yet too often that is what projects that assume sustainability does. They/we hope. But is this good enough? For me, confirming that hope means evaluating beyond exit to ex-post, at least 2 years after donor investments end. 99% of the time, donors & development practitioners don’t return to see what lasted, what didn’t, why nor what emerged from people’s own effort. Yet we implement similar programs over and over onward, not learning lessons from the past. Sigh.

We need to evaluate what we expected to remain from our implemented projects. We also need to learn from what evaluator Bob Williams calls, “the sustainability of the idea that underpinned the results (even if the results were no longer evident)”. This is often beneath what emerged: Our projects catalyzed the local’s desire to sustain activities: taking new ways, that are locally manageable (changing how the development idea is implemented onward) or even having entirely new initiatives emerge from the participant groupings — from their own priorities, not ours. (For more on emerging impactshttps://www.betterevaluation.org/en/themes/SEIE)

Evaluation leaders talk about power, they talk about the environment. After 7 years of researching and evaluating projects ex-post evaluations, I have found there are no brilliant 100% sustained + projects nor are there any 100% abjectly scorched earth ones either. Our results are middling at best. And therein lies the rub. Projects are what donors want to give. Sometimes that overlaps with what recipient countries want, sometimes not. Most of the time the resources to sustain our multimillion-dollar, -euro, -yen, etc., investments aren’t there. We can use incentives (e.g. food aid or cash) that can bolster short-term success while we spend, but once phased out, can lead to sustainability sharply falling off as early as 2 years after we exit. It’s because while ‘development’ is about ‘our’ spending on ‘our’ programs, about short-term success while we’re implementing, rather than our equal partners’ priorities and ability to sustain it. We misuse our power. We care about ourselves far more than the people we ostensibly went there to ‘save’.

And as esteemed evaluators Andy Rowe/ Michael Quinn Patton noted, given climate change we need to question even more assumptions about how sustained and resilient our programming can be, by evaluating the natural environment on which our programming relies pre, during & implementation, at exit and ex-post closure. (More on sustained environment: https://valuingvoices.com/sustaining-sustainable-development/)

It also means we need to talk to those to whom we will eventually hand over early on to make sure we’ve built-in resilience to the climatic, economic shocks we know of so far. I recommend my colleagues Holta Trandafili and Isabella Jean’s presentations on partnering we did a couple of months ago: https://valuingvoices.com/sustainability-ready-what-it-takes-to-support-measure-lasting-change-webinar/

Finally, I have come to see that to make sustainability more likely for years to come, we must fund, design, implement, and monitor/ evaluate For Sustainability throughout the project cycle. I have come to see that folks need guidance to help support their integration of sustainability throughout, including environment & resilience, benchmarks, and more. We can learn from what ex-posts teach. Join me please, to help craft more sustained development:

Upcoming Sustained Exit Webinar: 6 Nov 2020, 14:30–17 CEST, 8:30–11 EST

“Sustained Exit? Prove it or Improve it!” Interactive webinar discussion of ex-post sustainability evaluation lessons and how to integrate into ongoing #aid programs. On Zoom, participants get resources: checklists, slides, recording, Join us to #sustain #impacts! Register, sliding scale: https://sustainedexit.eventbrite.com