I am Ricardo Wilson-Grau an evaluator based in Rio de Janeiro but working internationally. Over the past 9 years, co-evaluators and I have developed the Outcome Harvesting tool while performing two dozen developmental, formative and summative evaluations. Half of these evaluations were of international social change networks. The other half of the evaluations were of the programmes of international development funding agencies.
The two dozen evaluands had in common that they did not have plans that could be conventionally evaluated because the original definition of what they aimed to achieve, and what they would do to achieve it, were either not sufficiently specific and measurable to compare and contrast what was planned with what was done and achieved, or they had to cope with dynamic, uncertain circumstances. In part this complexity was explained because all were attempting to influence changes in the behaviour of social actors over whom they had no control in order to make progress towards improvements in people’s lives, the conditions of society or in the state of the environment.
An August 2013 discussion paper from the United Nations Development Program summarized: Outcome Harvesting is “an evaluation approach that — unlike some evaluation methods — does not measure progress towards predetermined outcomes, but rather collects evidence of what has been achieved, and works backward to determine whether and how the project or intervention contributed to the change”.
Hot Tip: You can periodically demonstrate and be accountable for concrete, verifiable and significant results, negative as well as positive, of your work even if the outcomes were not planned, are unintended, and your contribution as been one amongst that of others and direct or indirect.
One instrument that will support you: see the Outcome Harvesting Brief.
Here are links to three diverse examples of Outcome Harvesting use:
The summative evaluation of the Oxfam Novib’s €22 million program to support 38 grantees working on sustainable livelihoods and social and political participation documents outcomes from 111 countries
A report on the evaluation experience of identifying and documenting 200 emergent outcomes of the BioNET global network.
After ten World Bank Institute teams piloted a customized version of Outcome Harvesting last year, in June 2014 the WB published a booklet of the cases and now lists the tool amongst its resources for monitoring and evaluation.
This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from theAmerican Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to learn more from Ricardo? He’ll be presenting as part of the Evaluation 2014Conference Program, October 15-18 in Denver, Colorado.