Greetings, I am Holta Trandafili, a researcher and evaluator captivated by sustainability theories and the sustainment of results. I believe that a thoughtful, systematic inquiry of what happens after an intervention ends adds value to what we know about sustainability. Since 2015 I have co-led ten post-program evaluations (also known as ex-posts) in Uganda, Kenya, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, and Bolivia. Their findings point to questions and issues of theory, measurement, and sustainability expectations relevant to any program:
- To what do we compare results to judge success? Is it that 60% of community groups or water points being operational three years after closeout a good result? Should it be 87% or 90%? Why? Should we use the end-line as the measuring yardstick, especially as contexts change? Whose view of success counts?
- How long should we expect results, or community groups left behind, or activities to continue post-program? Two or ten years or Forever? Why?
- Is going back once enough to make a judgment on sustainability? What would we find if we went back in 2020 where we evaluated ex-post in 2015 or even 2019?
Lessons Learned: Here are my reflections and resources on sustainability:
To the enthusiastic evaluators ready to start ex-posts
- Lesson learned: Organizations often carry out ex-posts for accountability. However, greater wealth lays in learning. Make learning part of your evaluation objectives. It took my organization 5 years from the first ex-post to have more open conversations and share our sustainability learning on what to improve: how we design, transition, and measure programs’ impact. Now we are genuinely more accountable.
- Get involved: Don’t lose heart if your first ex-posts prove difficult to conduct or have mixed results or unearth new questions and insights on sustainability. You are not alone. Find another evaluator that has gone through an ex-post experience and ask them to write a blog, present at a conference, write guidelines, attend a course, or merely meet to vent and dream.
To those already fighting to mainstream ex-post measurement in their organizations or their clients
- Mainstreaming ex-post evaluations is commendable for any institution. In this process we should start making the case to pilot longitudinal ex-post measurements (i.e., going back not once but several points in time). We can truly unpack the issues of temporality and longevity for sustainment of results. See JICA’s example on ex-post monitoring.
- Invest in theory-driven evaluations like Realist Evaluation to unpack the hidden mechanisms behind which different types of outcomes are sustained, asking: among whom, in what contexts, how, why?
- Read insightful blogs and resources from Valuing Voices, an Advocacy Research and Evaluation Network dedicated to providing Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations
- Marvel at JICA’s ex-post monitoring, returning twice post-exit
- A discussion note on Ex-posts from USAID illustrating donors interest and thinking around ex-posts
- A webinar on Sustainability Ready: What it takes to Measure and Support Lasting Change (by Isabella Jean, Holta Trandafili and Jindra Cekan/ova)