Leading in Challenging Times:
Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation (SEIEs)
Some American organizations are retrenching, focusing more attention on domestic rather than international programming. Some are pulling back from critique of international development to informing legislators of its benefits; the Center for Global Development’s changed ‘Rethinking US Development Policy’ blog to only “US Development Policy“. UN’s Refugee Agency questions whether to challenge Washington’s tough line on refugees from countries such as Syria, or should it stay quiet in the hopes of protecting its funding ?”
Reticence is understandable in this ‘climate’, so to speak, but fear does not change the world, leadership does. Envisioning and creating the world we want gets us there.
There may be no better time to build the evidence base on what works in sustainable development as these are low cost investments if we use national staff and focus research well. We have seen this in the fewer than 1% of all projects that have been evaluated post-closeout for sustainability . At the very least, we can learn what we should do differently in the next design, to fully foster sustainability, once more funding emerges. Many are interested in great results. Hundreds of ‘impact evaluations’ are happening on aid effectiveness; our industry wants to learn what works and what we could do better.
Our SEIE work goes beyond current understanding of ‘impact’ to see what projects our partners and participants can self-sustain ex-post for years to come which is an excellent investment in proving cost-effectiveness. While some governments’ investments can diminish in the short term, national governments, and other funders such as a range of international bilateral and multilateral donors, foundations corporate social responsibility and impact investors do want to invest in provably “sustainable” development .
Why should we invest in SEIEs?
- Hundreds of thousands of projects are still being implemented.
- Millions of participants are still hoping what we are doing together will be sustainable.
- Billions of dollars, euros, kwacha, pesos, rupees are being spent on new projects that need to be designed and implemented for future sustainability.
Implementing organizations could be fearful to see what remains once funding and technical assistance are withdrawn, but such a view not only robs our industry of exciting lessons on what did change and was so valued that it was sustained, but also what to not do again. Not returning post-project also short-changes our participants. In our SEIEs, we have found participants and partners creating new ways to carry on, innovating beyond what we could imagine during our assistance.
We also need to start now to design and implement for sustainability. doing SEIEs, we can start to understand the ‘drivers’ behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) results with countries tracking some 120 indicators across 17 goals. Currently countries are tracking up to 230 indicators across the 17 Goals . But while such monitoring shows ‘GDP has increased or ‘under-nourishment has decreased’, there is little or no information on what has caused it. Yet doing and SEIE on a large donor-funded programme, we can explore what elements made projects sustainable and how to do more (or less) there and elsewhere. Such sentinel site support for learning about sustained and emerging impacts is key to understand some of the why, for example, did income or health improve.
Dare to lead, especially in these challenging times. We know of organizations that are doing these evaluations internally, others are publishing them on their sites. Leadership happens at all levels, from internal, technical to managerial and administrative work to external evaluators and consultants as well as public pressure.
How can you foster sustained impact?
- You can advocate for such evaluations
- You can share the SEIE guidance, below, and start to design and implement, monitor and evaluate sustainably in all projects/ proposals you are designing now.
- You can see if your organization has done any post-project sustainability evaluations and we can post them on Valuing Voices’ repository, celebrating your organization.
We can help you learn how to do these. Our partner, Better Evaluation, just published our Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation as a ‘new’ evaluation ‘theme.’
Guidance there shows you :
1. What is SEIE?
2. Why do SEIE?
3. When to do SEIE?
4. Who should be engaged in the evaluation process?
5. What definitions and methods can be used to do an SEIE?
SEIEs will grow as will examples, discussions, and joy as embracing sustainability sprouts, and sends us progressing in yet-unforeseen ways! We are excited to be in the final stages of receiving a research grant to further guide SEIEs. We will share that news in our next blog.
We want to learn from you:
- What do you think needs to be in place for funders to move beyond the funding cycle and do an SEIE?
- What would help to make this type of evaluation more widely undertaken?
- If you have done a post-project evaluation, how did you do it? What were some of the barriers you faced and resources you were able to draw on to overcome them?
How can we lead together to Value the Voices of those we serve!?
(Reposted from https://medium.com/@WhatWeValue/leading-in-challenging-times-sustained-and-emerging-impacts-evaluation-seies-617b33bf4d27#.ec7fcg4ty)
 Foulkes, I. (2017, February 27). Is there a US diplomacy vacuum at the UN in Geneva? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39080204
 Cekan, J. (2015, March 13). When Funders Move On. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/when_funders_move_on
 UN DESA. (2011, March 2). Lasting impact of sustainable development. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/sustainable/sustainable-development.html
 UN Statistics Division. SDG Indicators: Global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Retrieved March, 2017, from https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/indicators/indicators-list/
 Cekan, J., Zivetz, L., & P, R. (2016). Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation (SEIE). Retrieved from https://www.betterevaluation.org/en/themes/SEIE
Making up your mind. Prioritizing and making it happen
* As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness".
* Our President, Barack Obama said in his farewell speech, "change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it".
* OXFAM International demanded changing shocking inequity: "just eight billionaires own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity".
* Caroline Heider of the World Bank's IEG asked we examine how we evaluate long-term impacts: "current considerations of efficiency, cost savings, or cost-benefit analyses are challenged to take long-term impacts into account".
What do you want to prioritize and demand of international development? In these times of shifting priorities in powerful nations, where politicians are questioning the needs of those whom many of us have been serving, what do you want to demand? What issue do you prioritize, and want to move forward?
I choose to prioritize sustained impact driven by country-nationals. Why? I grew up in large cities, and when I first worked in Africa’s Sahel desert 25 years ago, the herders and farmers making a living from the arid pastures and sandy soil, with wells 100 feet deep astonished me.
Without them, I’d last 3 days out there. They were the experts.
I always assumed we measured ‘sustainable’ development in work with such herders and farmers, but in 2013 I founded Valuing Voices after I began to see how rarely we return to evaluate what remained after our foreign aid projects stopped.
Reviewing thousands of “ex-post” or “post-project” documents in 30 organizations’ public databases, Valuing Voices has found the vast majority of documents only suggested a post-project be done, a small proportion were desk studies and fewer than 1% were original fieldwork post-project evaluations of sustainability. In these 370 post-project (ex-post) evaluations, development workers asked partners and participants what was still standing, showed what succeeded or failed and what unexpected successes participants created themselves from what we left behind.
Returning to learn, consulting our participant-experts seems so common sense as they are the ones that can tell us what we should replicate, adapt or abandon. In 2015 research we found only three World Bank IEG evaluations that asked participants their views in a methodologically clear way (out of 33 post-project PPAR evaluations), and only one was perceived as successful. On the other hand, in 2014, IRIN highlighted Rwanda’s very successful community based nutrition solutions, replete with participant voices. We have found 23 ‘catalytic’ (mostly NGO) organizations having done one or more (ex-) post-project evaluation that include participant input and each of them is filled with excellent lessons for doing ‘development’ well now and after closeout. Yet what are any of these organizations doing differently and why are so few doing more? Why do donors seem to care so little about sustained impact that such studies are so rarely funded by them, and NGOs use private funds? That is what drives me.
A seminal book, Time to Listen asked 6,000 such participant-experts in 20 countries what they wanted foreign aid to look like. “Very few people call for more aid; virtually everyone says they want “smarter” aid…. A majority criticize the “waste” of money and other resources through programs they perceive as misguided or through the failure of aid providers to be sufficiently engaged… [it is] a supply-driven approach that squeezes out the views of the recipients, and a focus on spending – both volume and speed, which undermines aid’s ability to listen, learn and adapt to local contexts.”
While Valuing Voices is not profitable (yet?) and growth is slow, I continue to evaluate and advocate, believing that designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating for sustained impact by our true clients is key to successful work life well spent.
We need a sustained impact mindset.
We are getting there. Better Evaluation just featured our Sustained and Emerging Impact Evaluation (SEIE) approach as a new theme in evaluation. OXFAM and Save the Children recently wrote “The Power of Ownership: Transforming US Foreign Assistance” (2016). They ask: “country ownership is at the core of effective development… as the United States transitions to a new President and new leadership for development cooperation, how will the next administration build on current successes and chart a path forward?“ I fear the answer, as it takes trust and interest in countries’ capacity to chart their own way forward. USAID (and maybe other donors?) are ready to help. USAID alone has some done some exciting work recently through USAID Forward’s local partners (e.g. Afghanistan has done this in depth) and it has looked at Local Systems. Food For Peace’s strategy includes sustainability.
What will be a priority in 2017 onward? What each of us creates will remain.
The powerful Sidekick Manifesto beautifully proposes this new core belief which we can each espouse, that “Local leaders with local solutions to local problems” will end poverty. We will not.” We can, however, “always be listening, learning and seeking a deeper understanding…” I am delighted to be a sidekick in projects that prioritize participant and partner views, for that is how they end poverty.
What do you want to prioritize and create? What is so vital for you that you must work on it? What has been neglected? What difference do you want to make? GO!
Learning about Sustainability and Exit Strategies
from USAID’s Food Assistance Projects
USAID overall and Food for Peace (FFP) specifically have become far more progressive in the Obama Administration and under Administrator Rajiv Shah, with a much greater focus on accountability and results. Those of you unfamiliar with USAID’s Food For Peace will learn it has been a large channel of international assistance for over 60 years and is not a small funding instrument. For 2016 alone, they have proposed spending $1.75 billion to feed 47 million people through humanitarian and development programs implemented by non-profits, for-profits and the UN’s World Food Program . Given this scale of resources, it is highly surprising that while many documents in their archive ask for post-project evaluation and there are a handful of desk reviews, they have done only two actual ones with new fieldwork in the last 30 years (these four countries and a recently published one on Uganda, see Catalysts page). This recent and excellent 2015 synthesis report by authors Rogers and Coates is presented below .
Commissioned by USAID, Tufts University and FHI360 have done a remarkably thorough two to three year post-project evaluation of four (Title II) food-assisted programs containing 12 projects in Bolivia, Honduras, India, and Kenya that closed out in 2009. The methodologies used are clearly outlined (itself a boon to our fledgling field) as are limitations and comments on context, findings and recommendations. It was no small feat to compare activities across four countries and so many sectors (some of which were supported by provision of US food aid resources, others with in-kind or cash inputs): maternal and child health and nutrition; water and sanitation; agriculture, livestock, and rural income generation; natural resource management; school feeding; and micro-savings and loans. Also this covered many implementers, from CARE, ADRA and Save the Children to World Vision, CRS and Feed the Hungry.
In this document, Dina Esposito, the Director of FFP states “We commissioned this report with the objective of determining what factors enhanced the likelihood of sustained project benefits, in order to improve our guidance for future food assistance development projects.… FFP development projects are designed to reduce the long-term need for food assistance by strengthening the capacity of developing societies to ensure access to nutritious food for their most vulnerable communities and individuals, especially women and children. The study team looked at 12 FFP development projects across four countries and asked not only what was achieved by each project’s end?, but also, what of those achievements remained one year after project close-out? and two years after? This rigorous, retrospective approach is not widely done, but is essential if we are to understand the true impacts of our investments. To be effective, development projects must result in changes that last beyond the duration of the project themselves.”
Process and findings:
The researchers compared baseline, midline and endline evaluations and exit strategy documents to new mixed-method data collection. There were four main findings:
1) Impact vs. Sustainability trade-offs: Evidence of project success at the time of exit (as assessed by impact indicators) did not necessarily imply sustained benefit over time. Just because projects were deemed successful at exit does not mean that those continued after closeout. “Moreover, the study found that focusing exclusively on demonstrating impact at exit may jeopardize investment in longer-term sustainability.” Valuing Voices found the same in Ethiopia in research done in 2013 .
2) Preconditions to successful sustainability: In addition to an ongoing source of resources, good technical and managerial capacity, and sustained motivation of participants and partners, linkages to governmental organizations and/or other entities were key to continuity and sustainability of outcomes and new impacts. “No project in this study achieved sustainability without [the first] three of them in place before the project ended,” and linkages between community partners and the public/private sector were critical for handover (Figure 1, below). Further, a gradual transition from project-supported activities to independent operation was important for sustainability. “Sustainability was more likely when projects withdrew gradually, allowing community-based organizations to develop the capacity to operate independently.”
3) Free resources can threaten sustainability, unless replaced while there is no one-size fits all for resources:
Using incentives has costs. “Free supplementary food in maternal and child health and nutrition projects or free marketing services in agriculture projects created expectations in many projects that could not be sustained once resources were withdrawn”. Valuing Voices found the same in research in Niger (report imminent). But other financing options, free health care or fee for service are still unsystematically studied regarding fostering sustainability in differing sectors.
4) External factors (climate, economy) can affect sustainability: The operating context and exogenous shocks (e.g., economic, legal and climatic) also affected the sustainability of project benefits, positively or negatively.
Most tellingly, the authors warned that “sustainability plans cannot be based on the hope that activities and benefits will continue in the absence of the key factors identified in this study.” Throughout the report and in pending country-specific studies, they outlined the assumptions that projects made about sustainability in order to exit and closeout, which were variably disproved, such as:
- Community health workers would continue to provide services although without remuneration,
- Households could continue to access nutritious food from their own (increased) production or purchases and have time, and know how to prepare such food,
- Farmers will pay for inputs with profits from increased production and commercialization and can meet the quantity and quality requirements of long-term contracts
- Community members will recognize the tangible benefit of Natural Resource Management activities and will be motivated to continue them without further inputs or remuneration
- Water committees will have sufficient administrative capacity and resources to manage their budgets effectively
- Community-based organizations have strong institutional capacity
- Partner organizations will continue to provide teacher training
- Government will have the resources and commitment to support future needs
The country studies with detailed findings are still forthcoming but these examples may illustrate the range of sustainability. There were some very well-sustained positive results in Food Production (India by area) and Child Health Growth Monitoring (Bolivia by consortium implementers) between baseline or enline and followup 2-3 years later:
As well as some far more mixed or negative results in examples across all the Water and Sanitation projects:
And far less stellar results in Maternal Child Health’s Community Health Workers (Kenya):
The authors recommended not only ensuring resources, capacity, motivation and linkages are present before exiting but also institutionalizing sustainable approaches to project design and evaluation including in solicitations and applications, project assessments, project management and knowledge management. They also recommended not only phasing down exit but also extending more such evaluations beyond the 5 years of implementation and assessing impacts as long as 10 years after. This requires some sizeable revisions to how development is done at Food For Peace.
All of these findings recommendations are near and dear to those of us at Valuing Voices. We strongly commend Food For Peace and ask for many more such studies, for unless we know what worked best and why, how do we know what to design next together with our partners and participants for real sustainability?
 InterAction. (2015). Choose to Invest 2016: Food For Peace Title II. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20150307160559/https://www.interaction.org/choose-to-invest-2016/food-for-peace-title-II
 Rogers, B. L., & Coates, J. (2015, December). Sustaining Development: A Synthesis of Results from a Four-Country Study of Sustainability and Exit Strategies among Development Food Assistance Projects. Retrieved from https://www.fantaproject.org/research/exit-strategies-ffp
 Cekan, J., PhD. (2014, April 7). Evaluation of ERCS/Tigray’s “Building Resilient Community: Integrated Food Security Project to Build the Capacity of Dedba, Dergajen & Shibta Vulnerable People to Food Insecurity”. Retrieved from http://adore.ifrc.org/Download.aspx?FileId=147802&.pdf