NPF TIG Week: Jindra Cekan on Evaluation and Sustainability

I am Jindra Cekan, PhD of Valuing Voices at Cekan Consulting, challenging us to reach for sustainability.

What is the overlap of sustainability and evaluation? OECD’s DAC Principles for Evaluating Development Assistance has five parameters: relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability. “Sustainability is concerned with measuring whether the benefits of an activity are likely to continue after donor funding has been withdrawn. Projects need to be environmentally as well as financially sustainable“. Valuing Voices research has found that too rarely do organizations return to evaluate sustainability after projects close from the participants’ perspectives.

Involving participants during implementation can strengthen prospects for self-sustainability afterwards. Often follow-on projects are designed without learning from the recent past, including failing to ask participants what they they feel they can self-sustain. Ninety-nine percent of international development projects are not evaluated after close out, much less by the people we aim to serve; yet we need this feedback to know what to design next. Current estimates indicate that over $1.5 trillion in US- and EU- funded programming alone since 2000 remains unevaluated so there is much to be learned.

Hot Tips: 

  • Plan for post-project evaluation processes from the beginning of a project.
  • Look at prospects for self-sustainability by interviewing participants at end of a project (Ethiopia)
  • We have used Appreciative Inquiry/Rapid Rural Appraisal/empowerment evaluation and are hoping to use Outcome Harvesting with participants and partners. We also recommend “360 degree” interviews with other stakeholders (e.g., local authorities, other NGOs in the area) to see what activities were sustained, what unexpected impacts occurred, and the extent of the spread.

Lessons Learned: Current post-project evaluations are asking:

  1. Which outcomes were communities able to maintain and why or why not?
  2. Did activities continue through the community groups or partners or others? Why?
  3. If the activities did not continue, why not? Was there any learning in terms of design/ implementation faults? Was ceasing activities always bad?
  4. What were unexpected outcomes and what led to new innovative (unforeseen) outcomes?
  5. What can we learn about capacity and motivations needed for sustainability? Resources? Linkages?
  6. What about knowledge management about results post-close out – who holds them, where and for how long for others to learn from?
  7. How is impact illuminated by the funding? What is the Return on Investment? How can we prioritize activities that are the most sustainable?

We should do country- and locally-led research on what project outcomes were self-sustained and why, in order to learn across projects, donors and borders. We need to know what activities are most self-sustained for future design and partnership in sustained exit and impact. Please join us!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.