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!

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Funding and Accountability for sustainable projects?

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Funding and Accountability for sustainable projects?

What are Sustainable Development Goals? ” the United Nations adopted the new post-2015 development agenda. The new proposals – to be achieved by 2030- set 17 new ‘sustainable’ development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. Some, like Oxfam, see the SDGs as a country budgeting and prioritization as well as an international fundraising tool. They cite that “government revenue currently funds 77% of spending…aligned with government priorities, balanced between investment and recurrent and easy to implement than donor-funded spending…” National investments are vital, but how much has the world used the SDGs to target investments and foster sustainable results?

Using results data such as that of the sectoral SDGs, countries can also ensure accountability for the policies implemented to reduce global and local inequities, but we must learn from the data. Over halfway to the goal, data is being collected, and while there is robust monitoring by countries who have built their M&E systems, other countries are faltering. “A recent report by Paris21 found even highly developed countries are still not able to report more than 40-50% of the SDG indicators” and “only 44% of SDG indicators have sufficient data for proper global and regional monitoring”. Further, there is very little evaluation or transparent accountability. Some of the data illuminate vitally need-to-know-for-better-programming. SDG data shows good news that Western and Asian countries have done better than most of the world 2015-19… but there is a lot of missing data while other data shows staggering inequities such as these:

  • In Vietnam, a child born into the majority Kinh, or Viet, ethnic group is three and a half times less likely to die in his or her first five years than a child from other Vietnamese ethnic groups.
  • In the United States, a black woman is four times more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman.

So are we using the SDG data to better target funding and improve design? This is the kind of evaluative learning (or at least sharing by those that are doing it :)) that is missing. As my colleague and friend Sanjeev Sridharan writes on Rethinking Evaluation, “As a field we need to more clearly understand evaluation’s role in addressing inequities and promoting inclusion” including “Promoting a Culture of Learning for Evaluation – these include focus on utilization and integration of evaluation into policy and programs.” How well learning is integrating is unknown.

As a big picture update on the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2021, with only nine years left to the goal: It’s not looking good. The scorecards show COVID-19 has slowed down or wiped out many achievements, with 100 million people pushed into extreme poverty, according to the IMF. Pre-Covid, our blog on sectoral SDG statistics on health, poverty, hunger, and climate, was already showing very mixed results and a lack of mutual accountability.

The private sector is ever-being pushed to fund more of such development costs, only marginally successfully, as public sector expenditures are squeezed. Yet the G20 estimates that $2.5 TRILLION is needed every year to meet the SDG goals. As we have seen at Impact Guild, the push to incentivize private commitments is faltering. “To ensure its sustainability, the private sector has specific interests in securing long-term production along commodity supply chains, while reducing their environmental and social impacts and mitigating risks… The long-term economic impacts of funding projects that support the sustainability agenda are, thus, clearly understood. However, additional capital needs to flow into areas that address the risks appropriately. For example, much remains to be done to factor climate change as a risk variable into emerging markets that face the largest financing gap in achieving the SDGs.” Further, if decreased funding trends continue, by 2030, at minimum 400 million people will still live on less than $1.25 a day; around 650 million people will be undernourished, and nearly 1 billion people will be without energy access. So we’re not meeting the SDGs, they’re being derailed by COVID in places, and we aren’t beginning to cost out the need to address climate change and its effects on global development…. so now what?

From: https://www.g20-insights.org/policy_briefs/incentivizing-the-private-sector-to-support-the-united-nations-sustainable-development-goals/

To ensure that giving everyone a fair chance in life is more than just a slogan; accountability is crucial. This should include a commitment from world leaders to report on progress on “leaving no one behind” in the SDG follow-up and review framework established for the post-2015 agenda and for the private sector to loudly track their investments across the SDGs. For as The Center for American Progress wrote, money and results are key: We must “measure success in terms of outcomes for people, rather than in inputs—such as the amount of money spent on a project—as well as in terms of national or global outcomes” and that “policymakers at the global level and in each country should task a support team of researchers with undertaking an analysis of each commitment.”

A further concern. While we seem to measure the statistics periodically and see funding allocated to SDG priorities, but there are few causal links drawn between intensity in investment in any SDG goal and sustained results. To what degree are the donations/ investments into the SDGs linked to improvements? Without measuring causality or attribution, it could be a case of “A rising tide lifts all boats” as economies improve or, as Covid-related economic decline wiped out 20 years of development gains as Bill Gates noted last year. We need proof that trillions of dollars of international “Sustainable development” programs have any sustained impact beyond the years of intervention.

We must do more evaluation and learn from SDG data for better targeting of investments and do ex-post sustainability evaluations to see what was most sustained, impactful, and relevant. Donors should raise more funds to meet needs and consider only funding what could be sustained locally. Given the still uncounted demands on global development funding, we can no longer hope or wait for global mobilization of trillions given multiple crises pushing more of the world into crisis. Let’s focus now.

Reblog Ex-post Eval Week: Exiting For Sustainability by Jindra Cekan

Ex-post Eval Week: Exiting For Sustainability by Jindra Cekan

Jindra Cekan
Jindra Cekan

Hello. My name is Jindra Cekan, and I am the Founder and Catalyst of Valuing Voices at Cekan Consulting LLC. Our research, evaluation and advocacy network have been working on post-project (ex-post) evaluations since 2013. I have loved giraffes for decades and fund conservation efforts (see pix).

Our planet is in trouble as are millions of species, including these twiga giraffes and billions of homo-sapiens. Yet in global development we evaluate projects based on their sectoral, e.g. economic, social, educational, human rights etc., results, with barely a glance at the natural systems on which they rest. IDEAS Prague featured Andy Rowe and Michael Quinn Patton who showed that I too have been blind to this aspect of sustainability.

I have argued ad nauseum that the OECD’s definition of projected sustainability and impact don’t give a hoot about sustaining lives and livelihoods.. If we did, we would not just claim we do ‘sustainable development’ and invest in ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ but go about proving how well, for how long, by whom, after closeout.

After hearing Rowe, I added to my Sustained Exit Checklists new elements about how we must evaluate Risks to Sustainability and Resilience to Shocks that included the natural environment. I added Adaptation to Implementation based on feedback on how much implementation would need to change based in part on climatic changes.

Consider these Valuing Voices Sustained Exit Elements table with information on commitments to sustainability and conditions for sustainability.
Source: Author’s Sustained Exit training (December 2020)

Lessons Learned:

Yet new evaluation thinking by Rowe, Michael Quinn Patton, Astrid Brouselle/ Jim McDavid take us a quantum leap beyond. We must ask how can any intervention be sustained without evaluating the context in which it operates. Is it resilient to environmental threats? Can participants adapt to shocks,? Have we assessed and mitigated the environmental impacts of our interventions? As Professor Brouselle writes, “changing our way of thinking about interventions when designing and evaluating them…. away from our many exploitation systems that lead to exhaustion of resources and extermination of many species.”

This 2020 new thinking includes ascertaining:

  1. (Andy Rowe) Ecosystems of biotic natural capital and abiotic natural capital (from trees to minerals) with effects on health, education, public safety/ climate risk and community development
  2. (Michael Quinn Patton) New Evaluative Criteria including: Transformation fidelity, adaptive sustainability, eco-efficiency full-cost accounting
  3. (Astrid Brouselle and Jim McDavid) Human systems that affect our interventions, including: Power relations, prosperity, equity and we need to make trade-offs between environment and development goals clear.

We have miles to go of systems and values to change. Please read this and let’s start sustaining NOW.

Rad Resources:

This week, AEA365 is celebrating Ex-post Eval Week during which blog authors share lessons from project exits and ex-post evaluations. Am grateful to the American Evaluation Association that we could share these resources…. 

ReBlog Ex-post Eval Week: Evaluating Peace for Sustainability by Peter Kimeu Ngui

Reblog Ex-post Eval Week: Evaluating Peace for Sustainability by Peter Kimeu Ngui

Peter Kimeu Ngui
Peter Kimeu Ngui

Peace is with you. My name is Peter Kimeu Ngui, the Founder and CEO of Decent Living Institute of Organic Farming with extensive experience on reflective peace and partnership building in Africa.

Is there anything like a ‘just world’? Can peace be ‘sustainable’? These two closely related questions must be in mind of evaluators of peace for sustainability in a community long after the funding expires. According to Catholic Relief Services’ Justice Lens, three key conditions that must exist in the vision of a just world and used by all sustainable peace evaluators.:

(1) sustainable right relationship for all humanity and nature

(2) the transformation of injustices in society, structures and policies with

(3) fairness of rights and responsibilities for sustained peace to all creation

The process of reflective peace building evaluation, including participatory creation of sustainability indicators demands a collaborative effort by all the stakeholders. This includes victims, perpetrators, peace builders/ advocacy agents who are necessary to establish and maintain a just environment.

Step one of the process involves reflecting on eight keys principles drawn from Pope Francis’ letter that awaken the conscience and human rights standards which fit into an acronym (CORDSSSS) for easy remembrance; Common Good, Option for the Poor, Rights and Responsibilities, Dignity and Equality, Social nature, Subsidiarity, Stewardship and Solidarity. Each team reflects on:

  • the definition of each principle
  • discussing what their world would be like if the principle was fully lived
  • what would be sustainable peace indicators (e.g. Increased peaceful resolutions administered by the community; peaceful co-existence by people in violent conflicts; reduced rape)
  • what needs to be different in the world (location) they live in?

Step two of the process is scenario building using the Appreciative Inquiry method that engages the participants in the evaluation. This involves finding out what:

  • sustainable values, customs, and traditions
  • policies and structures/ institutions exist in the community that promote/ advocate, promote, establish and maintain, monitor, and evaluate for sustainable peace building
  • the participants are led to dreaming of a just environment in their community and what needs be improved and put in place for this scenario to be realized.

Lessons Learned:

The evaluation teams are always and immediately energized to pursue the best scenario for peacebuilding, using the resources locally available.  The reflective peacebuilding process engages participants on real issues that directly affects the community, that the community is fears, worries, concerned with and they are immediately empowered with knowledge, using familiar traditional approach to resolve the violent conflict, and they self-discover that power to transform is with those engaged in the conflict.

The possibility of a just world becomes a reality amassing greater numbers of individuals to work for peace and work through these processes.

Lessons learned are self-created from local case study evaluation processes and appeal greatly to most of the community members

Rad Resources:

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….