Beneath the tree it’s always busy. The women share stories, give each other advice. A small informal market has popped up, and women buy or trade produce with each other. Marriages have even been arranged here.
For Sujata, it’s a great way to take the pulse of the community. She hears what is going on, what concerns the women have, and, most importantly, what matters to them. When she is awarded a scholarship to study overseas for one year, she is sorry to leave this string circle. An informal party is held for her and hugs are shared.
A year has passed and Sujata comes again to the river bank. Expecting to hear the laughter of women, she is surprised to find it quite deserted. The tree stands, offering shade, but no-one sits beneath it. All is still.
Curious, she takes the trail up to the nearest village. As she reaches the first house, she finds Sita, one of the women she knew, washing pots beneath a standpipe.
“And do you see the women from the riverside still?”
“Not so much”, says Sita.
And while this is was wonderful benefit to the women, reducing their labour and improving their livelihoods, Sujata couldn’t help wondering what they might have lost.
The group that met beneath the tree had strong bonds, shared each others’ strength and supported each other. And when the standpipes came, the group dispersed, with nothing to take its place. An informal community, a connection within and between two villages disappeared.
Whatever we do, there’s always impact.
Some impacts are planned – and some are unexpected.
Some can be positive. Some negative.
The positive, intended impact of the project for Sita was clear. Her life was less arduous, she was able to be more productive, her children ate better, and she was saving money. But the group with whom she shared so much strength - the people she turned to when she needed advice – was gone, and there was nothing in the NGOs plan to replace this.
We see this everywhere.
Improved healthcare in developed countries leads to people living longer, so the younger generation has to support a larger population. Governments and municipalities struggle to budget for the increased population and it creates strain on social services.
A change in any system has resonance. It’s felt everywhere, directly and indirectly.
Perhaps if the planners had better understood the social changes that would come out of their intervention Sita might still be connected to the other women from the riverside. Time will tell what happens next. People have a habit of coming together, so perhaps they might create their forum elsewhere, at the local market, perhaps.
Now, we may never create the ‘perfect’ project. Change, in its nature, will always have consequences, and there will be losses as well as victories. But we can try our best.
But we can try to understand the context and the stakeholders and anticipate the impacts. We can listen to our target groups and actively engage with stakeholders, and not just treat them as ‘sources of data’.
And, at the very least, instead of jumping straight into a worthwhile activity, and providing desirable outputs like water pumps, we can plan for outcomes and impact – and aim to anticipate the changes our intervention might bring that don’t sit quite so tidily in our elite management plans.
A thorough Results-Based approach to the planning of projects is crucial here – so we can “expect the unexpected” as well as plan for the positive, intended results.
And RBM isn’t so difficult. It’s a logical, step-by-step approach that leads to better projects, and gets the whole team – all their efforts – focussed towards achieving positive social change.
We’ve put together a course that walks you through every step, in a practical way, so you can design your own Results-Based project and M&E Plan.
Click the image below to learn more.