by Jindra Cekan | Mar 14, 2015 | Accountability, Aid effectiveness, Evaluation, Food for Peace (FFP), Food security, IATI, International aid, Local Participants, Maternal Child Health, MCHN, Open Data, Project design, Sustainability, Sustainable development
Are We Done Yet?
When are we off the hook, so to speak, for the well-being of the participants whom we said we'd make healthier, better fed, more educated, safer, etc?
America’s Agency for International Development (USAID) is the main channel for international development aid. It is also an organization interested in learning from its programming and numerous contracts support such work. One such contract by FHI360/FANTA was Food for Peace tasking them to review the agency’s Title II development food aid from 2003-2009 covering 28 countries. This Second Food Aid and Food Security Assessment (FAFSA-2) Summary found that such programs can “reduce undernutrition in young children, improve health and nutrition outcomes, and increase access to income and food” and also found practices that did not work well.
While USAID has made enormous strides in the intervening six years on monitoring and evaluation (I was a consultant to USAID/PPL/LER from 2013-14), excellent recommendations that would support great, sustainable programs are unfulfilled:
Recommendations #1, 4 “USAID/FFP should develop an applied research agenda and sponsor studies that focus on the implementation of Title II programs in the field to better define what works and what does not…. [and] should select the review panel for new Title II applications… and give reviewers a ‘cheat sheet’ on interventions and approaches that USAID/FFP is and is not interested in funding because they work better or do not work as well, [and] provide this same information in the Request for Assistance” [Request for proposals].
Yes, all across our industry there is little learning from past evaluations for future design and Valuing Voices believes local participants and stakeholders need to be consulted to tell us what (still) works and what they want more of not only during implementation but long after. Their voices must support great design, as it’s their lives we go there to improve; they must be involved in the design of these original requests that non-profits design and fulfill. Further, the study found that only 1/3 of all evaluations were included in USAID’s database, and as Valuing Voices’ partner Sonjara has written in our blog, aid transparency requires data retention and access for learning to happen.
Recommendation #3 “USAID/FFP should include options for extensions of awards or separate follow-on awards to enable USAID/FFP to continue to support high-performing programs beyond five years and up to ten years… [as] longer implementation periods are associated with greater impact.”
This would address the ‘how much impact can we accomplish in 1, 3, 5 years” question that many of us in international non-profits ask ourselves. Finally, the graphic below is self-explanatory – USAID sees its role ending at close-out.
The crux lies in their honest statement: "It was beyond the scope and resources of the FAFSA-2 to explore in any depth the sustainability of Title II development programs after they ended." While they state that there is merit in having impact while you intervene, such as "having a positive impact on the nutritional status of the first cohort of children is of immense benefit in its own right", they go on to say that "ideally, one would like to see mothers continuing positive child feeding practices and workers continuing to deliver services long after programs end… [yet] whether the [maternal child health and nutrition] interventions are sustainable beyond one generation is unknown and would require research." This is because funding is pre-programmed, fixed to end within set 1, 3, 5 year increments, and no one goes back to learn how it all turned out. This is what most needs to change, this illusion that what happens after closeout is no longer our issue, that the ‘positive impact’ we had while there is enough.
They are not alone. I think of NORAD, the Government of Norway's development arm as very progressive. So I went to NORAD's website and searched for 'ex-post' (we do a lot of that at ValuingVoices). So like our World Bank blog on finding real ex-post evaluations, many many things are considered 'ex-post', including one actual evaluation in Palestine with fieldwork which asked participants and a few that looked at institutional sustainability. Many of the 100+ 'finds' were actually documents recommending ex-post. Typical of our other searches of other donors. I emailed NORAD whether there were more with participant voices, yet they assured me they did them. Maybe our problem is in definitions and taxonomy again. Maybe we should call them post-project participant feedback?
Most of my colleagues would agree that the sustainability of activities aimed at making communities food secure in the long-term and independent of aid is a shared goal, one which short-term assistance aimed at huge impacts such as to ‘make communities food secure’ and ‘sustainably decrease malnutrition’ (common proposal goals) is unrealistic. We need participant voices to teach us how well we served them. We need to return, learn “what works and what does not”, and Value Voices in true sustained partnership. We all look forward to being done.
 “Another major obstacle to transparency and learning from the Title II program experience was the fact that only one-third of the final evaluations were publicly available on the Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC), despite the requirement that Awardees post them to the DEC…. [There was a lack of] cross-cutting studies or in-depth analyses of Title II evaluation results to advance organizational learning [and] much greater use could be made of the evaluation data for systematic reviews, meta-analyses, secondary analyses, and learning.”
by valuingvoicesjin | Feb 16, 2015 | Bolivia, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Ethiopia, ex-post evaluation, Exit strategies, Food for Peace (FFP), Food security, Honduras, India, International aid, Kenya, post-project evaluation, Project design, self-sustainability, Sustainable development
Learning from the Past… for Future Sustainability
Heading up Food Security for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was my first international development job in 1995-1999 and I have watched this organization grow in its commitment to program quality and learning/ knowledge management ever since. At the time I oversaw 17 of of CRS' USAID/ Food for Peace (FFP) programs. So I was delighted that not only has CRS done an ex-post evaluation and used the findings for programming (e.g. the effectiveness of investing in a particular sector—for example, the importance of supporting girls’ education within a food security program) and also for advocacy (e.g. evaluation lessons from Rwandan peace-building projects seven years after the genocide informed CRS’ evolving approach to peace and justice strategies), but I get to celebrate FFP learning too. In addition to having consulted to USAID/PPL (Policy, Planning and Learning) and the FANTA project, all featured below, I went to Tufts University’s Fletcher School. Super to see great organizations learning about sustainability!
CRS’ 2007 project package guidance for implementation and guidance (ProPackII), described ex-post evaluation/sustainable impact evaluation’s aim “to determine which project interventions have been continued by project participants on their own [which] may contribute to future program design…. it is fair to say that NGOs rarely evaluate what remains following the withdrawal of project funding [which] is unfortunate [as] important lessons can be generated regarding factors that help to ensure project sustainability.”
A 2004 Catholic Relief Services excellent ex-post evaluation in Ethiopia was featured: “Looking at the past for better programming: dap I Ex-Post Assessment Report”. It assessed sustainability of Agriculture Natural Resource Management, and Food-Assisted Child Survival/Community Based Health Care programming, done as an internal evaluation by CRS staff and partners with document review, partner, government and community interviews. Results were mixed.
Some activities generated enough food and income that households could eat throughout the year and have some savings, making them more resilient against drought
Almost 100% of cropland bunding and irrigation practices for improved crop production were still being applied and buffered them during a subsequent drought
Health practices had also continued (e.g. trained traditional birth attendants had continued to provide services with high levels of enthusiasm and commitment, and increased levels of health care-seeking behaviors existed).
However, many other benefits and services had severely deteriorated:
Nearly all water committees had dissolved, fee collection was irregular or had been discontinued
Many water schemes were not operational
The centrally managed [tree] nurseries had been abandoned (given the existing management capacity of communities and government).
CRS/Ethiopia and its partners came to see that:
“The potable water strategy had over-focused on the technical aspects (“hardware”) while not paying enough attention to the community organizing dimensions and support by existing government services (“software”).
Even limited post-project follow-up by partners and government staff might have gone a long way towards mitigating the deterioration of project benefits and services.
What was terrific was that they “went on to use these findings and lessons learned from this ex-post evaluation to inform the design of similar projects in Ethiopia… while also raising awareness of these issues among partner staff”. The ex-post recommended increased planning for sustainability, setting up village management for post-project and incentive maintenance. Great learning, yet we have found few ex-posts at CRS or elsewhere. Our industry needs to explore issues such as those the evaluators posed: Was the lack of sustainability due to technical, institutional or financial faults in the programming? In other words, was the lack of self-sustainability due to the design/ aim of the activity itself or how it was implemented?
In 2013, USAID’s Food For Peace commissioned fascinating research on Exit Strategies. Tufts University went to Bolivia, Honduras, India and Kenya which were phasing out of Title II food aid to look at how to “ensure that the benefits of interventions are sustained after they end, [as] there is little rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of different types of exit strategies used in USAID Office of Food for Peace Title II development food aid prog
rams.” The research is to “assess the extent to which the programs’ impacts were maintained or improved and to help understand factors of success or failure in the specific exit strategies that were used.” They have made the important discernment that the effectiveness of Title II programs depends on both short-term impact and long-term sustainability.
The FANTA project (contractor) made the following preliminary results available:
Impact assessment at exit does not consistently predict sustained impact two years later…. It can be misleading.
Many activities, practices, and impacts across sectors declined over the two years after exit. These declines are related to inadequate design and implementation of sustainability strategies and exit processes.
There are specific ways to increase the likelihood of sustainability: Sustaining service provision and beneficiary utilization of services and practices depends on three critical factors: Resources, Technical and Management Capacity, Motivation
Withdrawal of free food rations or any other free input (as incentive) jeopardizes sustainability without consideration of substitute incentives. For instance,
Withdrawal of food was a disincentive for participation in and provision of [child] growth monitoring…. Resources and health system linkages are needed to sustain health activities
Motivation, capacity and resources are all needed to maintain water systems
Agriculture and Natural Resource Management suffered greatly when resource incentives disappeared
Their main recommendations are that sustainability should be built into the design from the beginning, program cycles are longer and exit is gradual.
CRS found the same issue of incentives as a barrier, as they did technical and (institutional) capacity/ motivation/ management issues. We have much to learn… at least we’ve started Valuing Voices and asking… and eventually designing for sustainability!