Sustainable Development Goals and Foreign Aid–
How Sustainable and Accountable to Whom?
Jindra Cekan, PhD of ValuingVoices
World leaders will paint New York City red next week at the UN Summit adopting the new post-2015 development agenda. The agreed plans set 17 new ‘Sustainable’ Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. These are successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
While many of us have heard of them, how many of us know whether we met them and what prospects are there for the Sustainable Development Goals to do well or better? According to Bill Gates the MDGs were “the best idea for focusing the world on fighting global poverty that I have ever seen.” The Brookings Institute goes on to praise the eight MDG targets for aiming high by setting targets such as halving world poverty and reducing child mortality, improving universal primary education and gender equality and empower women etc. . Donor countries pledged three times more than they had until that time (raising the percentage of gross national income for international development assistance from 0.2% to 0.7%, not huge amounts but laudable). From 2000 to 2015 extreme poverty did fall by half (although some argue China and Asia were well on their way before this aid came) and in some countries (Senegal, Cambodia) child deaths fell by half. Global health improved via huge coalitions on immunization and HIV/AIDS. Yet while poverty dropped and health increased, hunger, environment and sanitation targets were not met, for instance, and there are 850 million people still hungry worldwide (11% of all people) . Yet gains far outweigh losses. The new Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved in 15 years, by 2030. The UN and member nations will track a remarkable 169 indicators, “monitoring progress towards the SDGs at the local, national, regional, and global levels… 
Overall, one would feel rather tickled by these results — not 100% but still amazing given global disparities. Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development thinks measurement is not the goal: “Growing global interconnectedness means that the problems the world faces, that hold back development, are increasingly shared… we’re making a promise to ourselves that we are one world, one planet, one society, one people, who look out for each other…” 
But I’m a fan of measurable results, I must admit. One would logically think that our international development projects funded by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDS), the Millennium Challenge Corporation and others could outline how the caused the good results that some MDGs showed. USAID’s website links its work to the MDGs clearly: “in September 2010, President Obama called for the elevation of development as a key pillar of America’s national security and foreign policy. This set forth a vision of an empowered and robust U.S. Agency for International Development that could lead the world in solving the greatest development challenges of our time and, ultimately, meet the goal of ending extreme poverty in the next generation” . It goes on to talk about work to “Promote sustainable development through high-impact partnerships and local solutions“ . USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service states their “non-emergency food aid programs help meet recipients’ nutritional needs and also support agricultural development and education. These food assistance programs, combined with trade capacity building efforts, support long-term economic development” . Finally, MCC states they are “committed to delivering results throughout the entire lifecycle of its investments. From before investments begin to their completion and beyond… MCC’s continuum of results is designed to foster learning and accountability” .
Maybe. We don’t actually know because 99% of the time we never return to projects after they end to learn how sustainable they actually were. We could be fostering super-sustainability. Or not.
For international development programming works on 1-5 year programming cycles. Multi-million dollar project requests for proposals are designed and sent out by these funders to non-profit or for-profit implementers. These are awarded to one or more organization, quite rigorously monitored, and most have very good results. Then they end. Since 2000, the US Agency for International Development has spent $280 billion on country-to-country development and humanitarian aid projects as well as funding multilateral aid and in spite of much work evaluating the final impact of projects at the end, they never go back . The EU has spent a staggering $1.4 trillion. USAID has funded one evaluation that has gone back to see what communities and partners could sustain… in the last 30 years, and that is about to be published. A handful of international non-profits have taken matters in their own hands and funded such studies privately. The EU’s track record is even more dismal, with policies being proposed but not done . The World Bank, which has funded over 12,000 projects has an independent evaluation arm, the Independent Evaluation Group. They returned after projects closed out to evaluate results only 33 times and we found only three of them systematically talked to project participants about what was sustained.
The bottom line is, how do we know anything we’ve done in international development or SDGs is sustainable unless we go back to see? What amazing or awful results must we know for future design? If we do not return, are we really accountable to our taxpayers and our real clients: the participants and the national countries foreign aid recipients themselves?
The UN has pledged to have an SGD report card to “measure progress towards sustainable development and help ensure the accountability of all stakeholders for achieving the SDGs….[and a] Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, to help drive the Data Revolution….by using data we can ensure accountability for the policies that are implemented to reduce global and local inequities” . I completely agree that having citizen generated data at the local, national, regional, and global levels is so very important “to fill gaps in our knowledge, establish global norms and standards and…help countries develop robust national strategies for data development.” And as the World Bank IEG’s Caroline Heider states, measuring them is complex (e.g. agriculture affected by climate change and measuring changes across sectors is hard) but worthwhile .
While SDG data tells us what donor-funded activities and policies work, very few in international development know how sustainably our programming works for our ultimate clients, our participants and partners. And the price needn’t be high—a recent post-project evaluation we did cost under $120,000 which is a pittance given the project cost over $30 million and reached 500,000 folks. We found clear (mostly successful) lessons. USAID has, after 30 years, funded one post-project evaluation that also has clear cost-effective lessons (forthcoming). Really, in this era of cost-effectiveness, don’t we want data on what worked best (Note to self: do that more) and what worked least (Note to self: stop doing that)?
Learning what participants and partners could self-sustain after we left is actually all we should care about. They want to get beyond aid. Shouldn’t we know if we are getting them there? Self-sustainability of outcomes is a clear indicator of good Return on Investment of our resources and expertise and their time, effort and expertise. It shows us we want to put ourselves out of a job, having built country-led development that really has a future in-country with their own resources.
Two steps are:
1) Donors to add a funding equivalent to 1% of program value for five years after closeout for all projects over $10 million to support local capacity-building of NGOs and national partners to take over implementation plus to evaluate lessons across different sector’s sustainability outcomes.
2) A cross-donor fund for country-led analysis of such learning plus lessons for what capacity needs to be built in-country to take over programming. This needs support from regionally-based knowledge repositories and learning centers in Africa, Asia, etc. Online and tangible centers could house both implementer reports/ evaluations and analyze/ share lessons learned across sectors and countries from post-project evaluations for projects that closed out 2-7 years ago for future design.
Now that is accountability. Let’s advocate for sustainability funding, data and learning now.
What are your suggestions? How can we improve sustainability?
 McArthur, J. (2013, February 21). Own the Goals: What the Millennium Development Goals Have Accomplished. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/articles/own-the-goals-what-the-millennium-development-goals-have-accomplished/
 End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign. (n.d.). MDG 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger. Retrieved from https://www.endpoverty2015.org/mdg-success-stories/mdg-1-end-hunger/
 Sharma, S. (2015, August 20). From Aspirations to Reality: How to Effectively Measure the Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/measuring-the-peoples-age_b_7999640
 Mirchandani, R. (2015, September 22). Does It Matter If We Don’t Achieve the SDGs? A New Podcast with Nancy Birdsall and Michael Elliott. Retrieved from https://www.cgdev.org/blog/does-it-matter-if-we-dont-achieve-sdgs-podcast-nancy-birdsall-and-michael-elliott
 USAID. (n.d.). USAID Forward. Retrieved from https://www.usaid.gov/usaidforward/usaid-forward-2014-archive
 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (n.d.). Food Assistance. Retrieved from https://www.fas.usda.gov/topics/food-assistance
 Millennium Challenge Corporation. (n.d.). Our Impact. Retrieved 2016, from https://web.archive.org/web/20160325135258/https://www.mcc.gov/our-impact
 Cekan, J. (2015, March 13). When Funders Move On. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/when_funders_move_on
 Global Issues. (n.d.). Foreign Aid for Development Assistance: Foreign Aid Numbers in Charts and Graphs. Retrieved from https://www.globalissues.org/print/article/35#globalissues-org
 Florio, M. (2009, November/December). Sixth European Conference on Evaluation of Cohesion Policy: Getting Incentives Right — Do We Need Ex Post CBA? Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/archive/conferences/evaluation2009/abstracts/florio.doc
 Heider, C. (2015, September 15). Evaluation Beyond 2015: Implications of the SDGs for Evaluation. Retrieved from https://ieg.worldbankgroup.org/blog/evaluation-beyond-2015-implications-sdgs-evaluation
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.
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!
A Missing Piece In Local Ownership: Evaluation
(Reblog from http://www.interaction.org/blog/missing-piece-local-ownership-evaluation Grino and Levine)
Ten years ago, ownership was established as a key principle of aid effectiveness. Although understanding of ownership has evolved since then – most significantly, as something that involves not just governments but all parts of society – today the focus is not on whether ownership is important but on how we can move ownership from principle to practice. To date, these conversations have primarily concerned how to make ownership a reality in program design and implementation. InterAction supports these efforts, but believes they need to go one step further. As we argue in our new briefing paper, the local ownership agenda must extend to all parts of the program cycle – from design all the way through evaluation.
Including those meant to benefit from international assistance (we use the term “participants”) in deciding what should be done and how it should be done is critically important for effectiveness and sustainability. Organizations, and some governments, also increasingly recognize the value of hearing directly from participants and citizens about how well something is being done. This can be seen in the growing use of feedback mechanisms and the establishment of initiatives promoting social accountability. Including participants in evaluation decision making is just as important. Particularly when participants have lacked ownership at other stages of an intervention, evaluation serves as a last opportunity for them to weigh in.
Despite the widespread acceptance of the principle of local ownership, evaluations continue to predominantly respond to the demands of donors, focusing on how funds are spent and the degree to which the results donors or implementers value are achieved. By only taking into consideration the values and interests of some stakeholders (primarily donors and external actors) in evaluations, organizations are missing a critical perspective on an intervention’s results: the views of the very people the intervention was intended to assist.
When participants are involved in evaluation, more often than not they serve as data sources, and perhaps as data collectors. Very rarely do we find examples of participants involved in deciding the questions an evaluation will ask, determining the criteria that will be used for judging an intervention’s success, interpreting results, or shaping recommendations based on evaluation findings.
A concern frequently raised about including participants in evaluation decision making is that their clear stakes in evaluation outcomes and potentially their lack of evaluation capacity could lead to biased and unreliable results. Yet it is important to acknowledge that everyone involved in an evaluation has values, interests, and capacities that affect how they approach an evaluation. Including participants’ voices adds a greater diversity of perspectives to an evaluation and the interpretation of findings, thus reducing bias.
We recognize that the road to local ownership in evaluation is just that: a road, not something that can be achieved instantly or that is possible in all cases. For that reason, we recommend that organizations take an incremental approach to pursuing local ownership in evaluation, focusing on the critical steps that can be taken along the way to increase the role of participants in evaluation processes.
As organizations seek to increase participants’ ownership in evaluation, they must consider:
Who to include as co-owners in an evaluation;
In which aspects of an evaluation participants need to be involved (we provide a list of possible evaluation activities related to designing the evaluation, collecting and analyzing data, determining findings and recommendations, and disseminating and using evaluation results); and
The nature of participants’ involvement (with the goal of moving from informing or consulting participants to including participants as partners in evaluation decision making).
Getting to local ownership in evaluation requires making progress on all three fronts.
Ultimately, all actors along the aid chain – from donors to international NGOs to local partners – must believe in the value of including participants as co-owners in evaluation. Once in place, this commitment must be complemented by investing in staff’s capacity to effectively involve participants in evaluation decision making, and in strengthening participants’ own capacity to engage. As in any other participatory process, participants must also trust that their input will indeed influence policies and practice. Including participants in this way is another way to signal that we truly view them as partners, rather than beneficiaries.
By Laia Grino, Senior Manager for Transparency Accountability and Results, and Carlisle Levine, Ph.D., Senior Advisor, Evaluation (Consultant)
What remained of Mongolian kindergartens
In 2012, we have ventured with my colleague Marie Koerner through steppes of Mongolia to learn what remained of the Czech-funded mobile kindergartens. People remembered a great project, nomadic women teaching in mobile kindergartens, children learning playfully in a safe environment and integrating better to primary schools… and their parents having more time for work or smaller siblings. Well, not much remained of it 4 months after extended project end. Despite an official agreement, the Mongolian Ministry of Education did not provide a budget. It rather accepted a bigger donation from the Asian Development Bank for a similar project. Well, the new one did not benefit that many children in so many remote areas, but kindergartens had better qualified teachers, free meals and heating. And the donor was happy. Still, something remained of the Czech project – the positive attitude of the community towards pre-primary education and dedication to involve children at least in summer prep-schools organized by the government. Read the full evaluation report here in the Czech language.
The sustainability stories are diverse, yet factors are often similar. The devil is in the detail – for example, a dedicated village chief can make a big difference.
Sustainability or commercial continuity?
Based on different evaluations of Czech development projects conducted in 2010 to 2013, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs started debating sustainability in 2013. Often, it was linked to commercial continuity – companies, ideally Czech, would continue to have business based on their previous successful engagement. Or at least income generation within the projects was highlighted. Questions arose if at least certain sectors, CSO or companies or types of projects are more sustainable than others, based on income generation or other factors.
What makes development projects sustainable?
Following the policy debate, the Czech platform of Civil Society Organisations – FoRS engaged Marie Koerner and me to analyse all evaluation reports, define what sustainability actually is and how it can be achieved. The key findings are below.
Project sustainability is linked to continued benefits for intended beneficiariesafter donor funding has been withdrawn. Not all project activities need to continue. Not all benefits need to be seen as meaningful by the beneficiaries. Income generation is not always possible and does not necessarily contribute to poverty reduction. Especially if the income is generated by the Czech companies, not by the local actors, who are responsible for sustaining project benefits.
Sustainability of the Czech Development Cooperation projects varies. Review of 37 publicly available evaluation reports of Czech development projects shows no correlation between sustainability and specific sectors, contracting authorities, implementers or countries of implementation has not been detected. It is rather external and internal factors shown below which influence project sustainability.
Sustainability factors are project specific and interdependent. They are external and internal. Often, even external factors can be influenced to achieve higher sustainability.
Sustainability can be influenced throughout the project cycle. Each stakeholder plays a certain role at each phase of the project cycle.
Good practice is available across sectors, including environment, agriculture, social development including education, economic development including energy as well as global development education and awareness raising. These sustainable Czech projects considered the key factors influencing sustainability in their plans and activities and thus contributed to lasting positive benefits for the recipients.
Overview of factors is displayed below:
Read the publication below, including different good practices. You can download ithere.
What next? What is your experience?
Based on the study, the Czech Development Agency together with FoRS organised an internal expert workshop on 13 March 2014 to debate possible steps for increasing the sustainability of Czech bilateral projects.
The results are yet to be seen. Feel free to share your resources and experience!
Pick a term, any term…but stick to it!
Valuing Voices is interested in identifying learning leaders in international development that are using participatory post-project evaluation methods to learn about the sustainability of their development projects. These organizations not only believe they need to see the sustained impact of their projects by learning from what has worked and what hasn’t in the past, but also that participants are the most knowledgeable about such impacts. So how do they define sustainability? This is determined by asking questions such as the following: were project goals self-sustained by the ‘beneficiary’ communities that implemented these projects? By our VV definition, self-sustainability can only be determined by going back to the project site, 2-5 years after project closeout, to speak directly with the community about the long-term intended/unintended impacts.
Naturally, we turned to the World Bank (WB) – the world’s prominent development institution – to see if this powerhouse of development, both in terms of annual monetary investment and global breadth of influence, has effectively involved local communities in the evaluation of sustainable (or unsustainable) outcomes. Specifically, my research was focused on identifying the degree to which participatory post-project evaluation was happening at the WB.
A fantastic blog* regarding participatory evaluation methods at the WB emphasizes the WB’s stated desire to improve development effectiveness by “ensuring all views are considered in participatory evaluation,” particularly through its community driven development projects. As Heider points out,
“The World Bank Group wants to improve its development effectiveness by, among others things, engaging citizens throughout the operational project cycle. It has set itself an ambitious target: 100% citizen engagement in projects that have clearly identifiable beneficiaries.”
Wow! Though these methods are clearly well intentioned, there seems to be a flaw in the terminology. The IEG says, “[Community driven development projects] are based on beneficiary participation from design through implementation, which make them a good example of citizen-centered assessment techniques in evaluation,” …however, this fails to recognize the importance of planning for community-driven post-project sustainability evaluations, to be conducted by the organization in order to collect valuable data concerning the long-term intended/unintended impacts of development work.
With the intention of identifying evidence of the above-mentioned mode of evaluation at the WB, my research process involved analyzing the resources provided by the WB’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) database of evaluations. As the accountability branch of the World Bank Group, the IEG works to gather institution-wide knowledge about the outcomes of the WBs finished projects. Its mission statement is as follows:
“The goals of evaluation are to learn from experience, to provide an objective basis for assessing the results of the Bank Group’s work, and to provide accountability in the achievement of its objectives. It also improves Bank Group work by identifying and disseminating the lessons learned from experience and by framing recommendations drawn from evaluation findings.”
Another important function of the IEG database is to provide information for the public and external development organizations to access and learn from; this wealth of data and information about the World Bank’s findings is freely accessible online.
When searching for evidence of post-project learning, I was surprised to find that the taxonomy varied greatly; e.g. projects I was looking for could be found under ‘post-project’, post project’, ‘ex-post’ or ‘ex post’. What was also unclear was any specific category under which these could be found, including a definition of what exactly is required in an IEG ex post impact evaluation. According to the IEG, there are 13 major evaluation categories, which are described in more detail here. I was expecting to find an explicit category dedicated to post-project sustainability, but instead this type of evaluation was included under Project Level Evaluations (which include PPARs and ICRs [Implementation Completion Reports]), and Impact evaluations.
This made it difficult to determine a clear procedural standard for documents reporting sustainability outcomes and other important data for the entire WB.
I began my research process by simply querying a few key terms into the database. In the first step of my research, which will be elaborated upon in Part I in this blog series, I attempted to identify evidence of ex post sustainability evaluation at the IEG by searching for the term “post-project” in the database, which yielded 73 results when using a hyphen and 953 results without using a hyphen. I found it interesting the inconsistency in the number of results depending on the use of a hyphen, but in order to narrow the search parameters to conduct a manageable content analysis of the documents, I chose to breakdown these 73 results by document type to determine if there are any examples of primary fieldwork research. In these documents, the term “post-project” was not used in the title of the documents or referenced in the executive summary as the specific aim of the evaluation, but rather used to loosely define the ex post time frame. Figure 1 illustrates the breakdown of document types found in the sample of 73 documents that came up when I searched for the key term “post-project”:
Figure 1: Breakdown by Document Type out of Total 73 Results when searching post-project
As the chart suggests, many of the documents (56% – which accounts for all of the pie chart slices except Project Level Evaluations) were purely desk studies – evaluating WB programs and the overall effectiveness of organization policies. These desk studies draw data from existing reports, such as those published at project closeout, without supplementing past data with new fieldwork research.
Out of the 9 categories, the only document type that showed evidence of any follow up evaluations were the Project Performance Assessment Reports (PPARs), defined by the IEG as documents that are…
“…based on a review of the Implementation Completion Report (a self-evaluation by the responsible Bank department) and fieldwork conducted by OED [Operations Evaluation Department]. To prepare PPARs, OED staff examines project files and other documents, interview operational staff, and in most cases visit the borrowing country for onsite discussions with project staff and beneficiaries. The PPAR thereby seeks to validate and augment the information provided in the ICR, as well as examine issues of special interest to broader OED studies.”
Bingo. This is what we’re looking for. The PPARs accounted for 32 out of the 73 results, or a total of 44%. As I examined the methodology used to conduct PPARs, I found that in the 32 cases that came up when I searched for “post-project”, after Bank funds were “fully dispersed to a project” and resources were withdrawn, the IEG sent a post-project mission back into the field to collaborate on new M&E with local stakeholders and beneficiaries. The IEG gathered new data through the use of field surveys or interviews to determine project effectiveness.
Based on these findings, I conducted a supplementary search of the term “ex post”, which yielded 672 results. From this search, 11 documents were categorized by the IEG as “Impact Evaluations”, of which 3 showed evidence of talking with participants to evaluate for sustainability outcomes. In follow-up blogs in this series I will elaborate upon the significance of these additional findings and go into greater detail regarding the quality of the data in these 32 PPARs, but here are a few key takeaways from this preliminary research:
Taxonomy and definition of ex-post is missing. After committing approximately 15-20 hours of research time to this content analysis, it is clear that navigating the IEG database to search for methodology standards to evaluate for sustainability is a more complicated process than it should be for such a prominent learning institution. The vague taxonomy used to categorize post-project/ex-post evaluation by the WB limits the functionality of this resource as a public archive dedicated to informing the sustainability of development projects the World Bank has funded.
Despite affirmative evidence of participatory community involvement in the post-project evaluation of WB projects, not all PPARs in the IEG database demonstrated a uniform level of ‘beneficiary’ participation. In most cases, it was unclear how many community members impacted by the project were really involved in the ex-post process, which made it difficult to determine even a general range of the number of participants involved in post-project activity at the WB.
Although PPARs report findings based, in part, on post-project missions (as indicated in the preface of the reports), the specific methods/structure of the processes were not described, and oftentimes the participants were not explicitly referenced in the reports. (More detailed analysis on this topic to come in Blog Series Part 2!)
These surprisingly inconsistent approaches make it difficult to compare results across this evaluation type, as there is no precise status quo.
Finally, the World Bank, which has funded 12,000 projects since its inception, should have far more than 73 post-project/ ex-post evaluations…but maybe I’m just quibbling with terms.
Stay tuned for PART II of this series, coming soon!
Czech it out! Great evaluation happening in the Czech Republic
One of the delights of living in another country is the surprises one encounters. For me, coming back to our second 'home', it was an evaluative surprise. For by connecting to the Czech Foreign Ministry's Evaluation team, I found evidence of learning from meta-evaluation, doing ex-post evaluation, conscientious tracking of project cost-effectiveness and an openness to self-sustainability research funding and using national evaluators to lead them.
Czech Foreign aid is widespread- "Through development cooperation, the Czech Republic helps to eradicate poverty in less developed parts of the world by means of sustainable socio-economic development. It also contributes to global security and stability, conflict prevention, the promotion of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law". Development assistance is done by several entities, the main two under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ORS (Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid) and its subsidiary CRA (Czech Development Agency).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs oversees some fascinating evaluation work. After attending several partner-donor meetings and presentations of a meta-evaluation, an ex-post from an array of projects in Georgia and a discussion of findings across all evaluations in 2014, I am impressed. Why? Because not only are they willing to learn from both successes and failures, openly discussing challenges in learning between grants and contracts, but also because they are tackling programming in 10 countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Georgia) with a mere 17 people and a budget of $35 million for 2015.
What are some of the things they are learning?
1. They commissioned a meta-evaluation looking at 20 projects from 2012-2013. What worked well was well described and documented evaluations that were also cost-effective (evaluations were 4% of total costs) and tried to offer constructive solutions to things that did not work well in projects. While some methodologies needed to be better, and reports were hard to access, a major finding was what needs to be improved is inclusion of local recipients in stakeholder analyses, soliciting their views on what the evaluations should focus and on how the projects affected them. Further, during discussions we highlighted the need for an evaluation of outcomes and impacts, not just how evaluations quality was but also which organizations had the best results and why.
2. They commissioned an ex-post evaluation across eight organizations' in the Republic of Georgia (5 Czech, 3 Georgian), of one-year projects with 131 separate activities in civic engagement, media and youth between 2008-2012. The evaluation looked at the short-term effectiveness and longer-term sustainability of activities in the Republic of Georgia. Key findings included good relevance of aid offered, high cost-efficiency, low effectiveness for Georgian decision-making, primarily individual (rather than systemic) sustainability, though some good impact.
Key recommendations from this evaluation-, which Valuing Voices thinks, are universal included:
LEARN BETTER TOGETHER
a. Implement min. 3-year projects, whereby focus in a selected region (or a few regions) on a selected local priority topic, ensure in-depth needs analysis, multi-stakeholder cooperation [including participants], sustainable mechanisms, ongoing local support and enough flexibility as per external factors.
b. Allocate budget for burning human rights issues and for enhancing planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning capacities of Civil Society Organizations.
SHARE FINDINGS MORE
c. Coordinate activities with other implementers and donors in the target area and if possible (taking into account the political situation) also with local state institutions and potential implementers
d. Implement multi-stakeholder initiatives in a specific area (health, environment, social inclusion, minorities) with an advocacy component, sharing of results / lessons learnt and a media component
3. Among annual recommendations from Evaluation discussions throughout the year emerged this surprising one on cost-effectiveness. A detailed financial budget is now standard, and expenses for project activities among a majority of (grant-funded) projects and the Czech Development Agency are now required. This enables cost-effectiveness comparisons at least across grants (albeing not across for-profit contracts). In my experience this is unparalleled! (Let me know if other countries do this please!)
Overall, the fact that the Czech Foreign Ministry and implementing partners are willing to look at themselves critically and transparently improve accountability to its ultimate recipients and taxpayers makes me shout Hurrah from all of Prague’s 100 spires! Here is one of them, taken from a Ministry’s window.