EVER WONDERED HOW A RESULTS-BASED PROJECT DIFFERS FROM ONE FOCUSED JUST ON IMPLEMENTATION?
A couple of years ago I had back-to-back assignments on two continents. And it was interesting to see the huge difference between a project that focused on results and prioritised M&E, and one that focused on implementation.
The Irony Was That Both Projects Were Doing The Same Things.
Now, Sasakawa has 5 'thematic areas'. What's interesting is that MELS (Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning & Sharing) was considered a thematic area in itself and shared equal billing with the other program components such as Crop and Livestock Productivity and Post-Harvest and Agro-Processing. Typically, where a MELS unit does exist, it's often treated as separate - and somehow less valuable - part of the operation. A bit like when you only see the IT people when your computer gets a virus, you only notice M&E when a report is pending and they're demanding data. But these people (and they were a team of 4) were integrated into everything.
This meant data collection was consistent, reliable and on-time. People knew what tools to use and how often. Data flow systems meant data was received and turned into actionable information - the learning that keeps projects on track.
So far, so good. But it's not enough to measure the use of a service and say we achieved a result. Why are we training farmers in the first place? Sasakawa's M&E aimed to measure outcome and impact. They monitored farmers post-training, and, open to learning, continually enhanced the program to ensure farmers applied what they learned.
But that wasn't enough for them, either. What about food security? Increased income? Sustainability? All those higher level results, the outcomes and impact that align the project with the shared agendas of governments and other development actors, that sit at the top of the Log Frame but rarely get considered in the day-to-day running of a project.
They tracked these, too.
This allowed for responsible management. Now, let's look at that word - responsible. A lot of people don't like responsibility - they feel it's too much for them, and that, if things go wrong, they'll get the blame. But what does responsibility really mean?
IT MEANS THE ABILITY TO RESPOND
And you can't have that unless you have a strong MELS system that continually focuses on effectiveness rather than just compliance.
Now I said this was a tale of two continents, and a week later I'm in the departure lounge of Bole International Airport waiting for a flight to Bangkok. From there I will connect onwards to Myanmar, where a church-based INGO has invited me to train a team from all over South and South-East Asia.
The training went great - especially as I had two good Myanmarese friends supporting, and the participants were very enthusiastic. But it was the field visit that gave me food for thought.
On the third day we all went out to ... a Farmer training Centre! Now, having spend the last two weeks editing Sasakawa's collected experiences, I felt myself to be a bit of an expert by this time!
So, we are strolling around the centre - and as I'm helping the team with their research skills they have a lot of sharp questions, such as:
- 'Who are the beneficiaries of this project?'
- 'What problem was the Farmer Training Centre created to address?'
- 'What kind of outcomes do the farmers experience?'
- 'How do you monitor and evaluate the outcomes?'
Now, there was no difference in the actual work being carried out by one of Sasakawa's FTCs and the one in Myanmar. They had facilities, trainers, incentives, and they put the effort in to train the farmers.
But in the case of the Myanmar FTC, training was the end point. As long as they could tick the box that said 'this year we trained 200 farmers' it was 'job done' as far as they, and their supporters, were concerned. Now, the congregations back in the USA whose donations funded this project - I'm sure they were fine with this. Their contributions were 'doing good'. But a more results-focused donor would expect more value - more strategic focus, better monitoring beyond the output level - otherwise how do we know whether the work we are doing has any real benefit or creates any kind of positive change.
So we have two projects doing the same work. One knows where it's going, and tracks its progress all the way to the outcome and impact on people's diet, health and pocketbooks. The other that focuses just on activities and numbers, and gives the farmers a pat on the back and a phone call a year later to see how things are. (Yes, that was their M&E system - a phone call!)
It's the difference between getting to your destination (and I'm not saying it's easy) or just sitting, stuck in traffic wondering why nothing seems to change.
It's a simple fact that a well-designed and monitored project will get better results - better outcomes for target groups, better value for donors, and teams that work together effectively.
And Results-Based Management gives us a framework to:
- Better plan humanitarian interventions that create positive, measurable outcomes
- More easily track progress and steer projects towards success
- Get our project teams working together more efficiently towards a common purpose
When your team focuses on results instead of just on implementation, you benefit from:
- Better results for communities and stakeholders
- Projects that provide real value
- Increased donor support
So, are you a driver or a passenger? If you want to design and steer projects to a successful outcome for your stakeholders, and keep your donors happy, you need to be in the driving seat.