Hi, I am Jindra Cekan, PhD, an independent evaluator with 25 years of international development fieldwork, at www.ValuingVoices.com.
What if we saw our true clients as project participants and wanted the return on investment of projects be maximally sustained? How would this change how we evaluate, capture, learn together?
Lesson Learned: Billions of dollars of international development assistance are spent every year and we do baseline, midterm and final evaluations on most of them. We even sometimes evaluate sustainability using OECD’s DAC Criteria for Evaluating Development Assistance: relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability. This is terrific, but deeply insufficient. We rarely ask communities and local NGOs during or after implementation what they think about our projects, how to best sustain activities themselves and how to help them do so.
Also, very rarely do we return 3, 5, or 10 years after projects close and ask participants what is “still standing” that they managed to sustain themselves. How often do we take community members, local NGOs, or national evaluators as the leaders of evaluations of long-term self-sustainability of our projects? Based on my research 99% of international aid projects are not evaluated for sustainability or impact after project close by anyone, much less by the communities they are designed to serve.
With $1.52 trillion dollars in US and EU foreign aid being programmed for 2014–2020, our industry desperately needs feedback on what communities feel will be sustainable now, what interventions offer the likelihood of positive impact beyond the performance of the project’s planned (log-framed) activities. Shockingly, this does not exist today.
Further, such learning needs to be transparently captured and shared in open-date format for collective learning, especially at the country and implementer level. Creating feedback loops between project participants, national stakeholders, partners and donors that foster self-sustainability will foster true impact.
Hot Tip: We can start in current project evaluations. We need to ask these questions of men, women, youth, elders, the richer and poorer in communities as well as of local stakeholders. Ideally we would request national evaluators to ask (revise!) questions such as:
- How valuable have you found the project overall in terms of being able to sustain activities yourselves?
- How well were project activities transferred to local stakeholders?
o Who is helping you sustain the project locally once it ends?
- What were the activities do you think you can least maintain yourselves?
o What should be done to help you?
- What were activities that you wish the project had supported that build on your community’s strengths?
- Was there any result that came of the project that was surprising or unexpected?
- What else do we need to learn from you to have greater success in the future?
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