The Big Push forward: The Australian Debate (Oct 2011)

October 26, 2011 by Chris Roche.

On 19 October 2011, Oxfam Australia hosted a ‘Big Push Forward‘ event in Melbourne with the co-conveners of this initiative – Rosalind Eyben and Irene Guijt. Sixty development practitioners, including AusAid staff and academics came together to discuss whether the concerns voiced by the Big Push Forward project are relevant in Australia.

 HOW RELEVANT ARE THE ISSUES TO AUSTRALIA?

Following an introduction from Rosalind and Irene, we  had short inputs from three speakers on how these issues resonated in our part of the world.  Dennis Altman, from the Institute of Human Security, at La Trobe University suggested that the neo-liberal language which permeates Western society has been recast in the development world. into an auditing culture, focusing on evaluation, monitoring, and counting beans.  Marc Purcell the CEO of Australia’s International NGO umbrella group ACFID noted that the commitment to international aid in Australia is extremely brittle, and that the public debate about aid in Australia has led to a deep anxiety in government about how the aid programme is being perceived. But he argued that maybe it’s no bad thing for economists to look at the work of ‘pampered NGOs’. Jess Dart, the Managing Director of consulting company Clear Horizon, felt that whilst Australian NGOs do more internal evaluation than most there was a view expressed at this year’s Australasian Evaluation Conference that ‘development is the cowboy of evaluation’.  If we can’t tell the story of what we’ve done, people will ask for results. There are lots of really good methods out there and we can use these to offer solid alternatives to tell more complex stories of transformation.

OZIFYING THE THEMES
Continue reading “The Big Push forward: The Australian Debate (Oct 2011)”

Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation

Michael Quinn Patton, August 2011. Sage publications

Publisher’s description:

“Based on Michael Quinn Patton’s best-selling Utilization-Focused Evaluation, this briefer book provides an overall framework and essential checklist steps for designing and conducting evaluations that actually get used. The new material and innovative graphics present the utilization-focused evaluation process as a complex adaptive system, incorporating current understandings about systems thinking and complexity concepts. The book integrates theory and practice, is based on both research and professional experience, and offers new case examples and cartoons with Patton’s signature humor. ”
Continue reading “Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation”

Innovations in Monitoring and Evaluation ‘as if Politics Mattered’,

Date: 17-18 October 2011
Venue: ANU, Canberra, Australia

Concept Note, Chris Roche & Linda Kelly, 4 August 2011

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP)[1] addresses an important gap in international thinking and policy about the critical role played by leaders, elites and coalitions in the politics of development. At the core of DLP thinking is the proposition that political processes shape developmental outcomes at all levels and in all aspects of society: at national and sub-national levels and in all sectors and issue areas.

Initial findings of the DLP research program confirm that development is a political process and that leadership and agency matter. This is of course not new, but the DLP research provides important insights into how, in particular, leadership, elites and formal and informal coalitions can play a particularly important and under-recognized role in institutional formation (or establishing the ‘rules of the game’), policy reform and development processes[2].

International aid therefore needs to engage effectively with political processes. It needs to be flexible and be able to respond when opportunities open up. It needs to avoid the danger of bolstering harmful political settlements.

Furthermore Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) mechanisms need to be improved and made compatible with flexible programming and recognize the importance of ‘process’ as well as outcomes. Donors should invest in a range of monitoring and evaluation techniques and approaches which are more aligned with the kinds of non-linear and unpredictable processes which characterise the kinds of political processes which drive positive developmental outcomes. This is important because it can be argued that, at best, current approaches are simply not appropriate to monitor the kinds of processes DLP research indicates are important; or, at worst, they offer few incentives to international assistance agencies to support the processes that actually lead to developmental outcomes Continue reading “Innovations in Monitoring and Evaluation ‘as if Politics Mattered’,”

Evaluating the Complex: Attribution, Contribution and Beyond.

Kim Forss, Mita Marra and Robert Schwartz, editors. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick. May 2011. Available via Amazon

“Problem-solving by policy initiative has come to stay. Overarching policy intiatives are now standard modus operandi for governmental and non-governmental organisations. But complex policy initiatives are not only reserved for the big challenges of our times, but are used for matters such as school achievement, regional development, urban planning, public health and safety. As policy and the ensuing implementation tends to be more complex than simple project and programme management, the task of  evaluation has also become more complex.”

“The book begins with a theoretical and conceptual explanation of complexity and how that affects evaluation. The authors make the distinction between, on the hand, the common-sense understanding of complexity  as something that is generally messy, involves many actors and has unclear boundaries and overlapping roles; and on the hand, complexity as a specific term from systems sciences, which implies non-linear relationships between phenomena. It is particularly in the latter sense that an understanding of complexity has a bearing on evaluation design in respect of how evaluators approach the question of impact.”

“The book presents nine case studies that cover a wide variety of policy initiatives, in public health (smoking prevention), homelessness, child labour, regional development, international development cooperation, the HIV/AIDs pandemic, and international development cooperation. The use of case studies sheds light on the conceptual ideas at work in organisations addressing some of the world’s largest and most varied problems.”

“The evaluation processes described here commonly seek a balance between order and chaos. The interaction of four elements – simplicity, inventiveness, flexibility, and specificity – allows complex platterns to emerge. The case studies illustrate this framework and provide a number of examples of practical management of complexity in light of contingency theories of the evaluation process itself. These theories in turn match the complexity of the evaluated policies, strategies and programmes. The case studies do not pretend to illustrate perfect evaluation processes, the focus is on learning and on seeking patterns that have proved satisfactory and where the evaluation findings have been robust an trustworthy.”

“The contingency theory approach of the book underscores a point also made in the Foreword by Professor Elliot Stern: “In a world characterised by interdependence, emergent proerties, unpredictable change, and indeterminate outcomes, how could evaluation be immune?” The answer lies in the choice of methods as much as in the overall strategy and approach of  evaluation.”

The “Real Book” for story evaluation methods

Marc Maxson, Irene Guijt, and others, 2010. GlobalGiving Foundation (supported by Rockefeller Foundation). Available as pdf.  See also the related website.

[“Real Book” = The Real Book is a central part of the culture of playing music where improvisation is essential. Real books are not for beginners: the reader interprets scant notation, and builds on her own familiarity with chords. The Real Book allows musicians to play an approximate version of hundreds of new songs quickly]

About this book
“This is a collection of narratives that serve to illustrate some not-so-obvious lessons that affected our story pilot project in Kenya. We gathered a large body of community stories that revealed what people in various communities believed they  needed, what services they were getting, and what they would like to see happen in the future. By combining many brief narratives with a few contextual questions we were able to compare and analyze thousands of stories. Taken together, these stories and their meanings provide a perspective with both depth and breadth: Broad enough to inform an organization’s strategic thinking about the root causes of social ailments2, yet deep and real enough to provoke specific and immediate follow-up actions by the local organizations of whom community members speak.

We believe that local people are the “experts” on what they want and know who has (or has not) been helping them. And like democracy, letting them define the problems and solutions that deserve to be discussed is the best method we’ve found for aggregating that knowledge. Professionals working in this field can draw upon the wisdom of this crowd for understanding the local context, and build upon what they know. Community efforts are complex, and our aim is not to predict the future, but help local leaders manage the present. If projects are observed from many angles – especially by those for whom success affects their livelihood – and implementers use these perspectives to mitigate risks and avoid early failure, the probability of future success will be much greater.”

See also:

RD comment 1: See also a different perspective on the Global Giving experience: Networks of self-categorised stories, by Rick Davies

RD comment 2: What I like about this doc: 1. Lots of warts and all descriptions of data collection, with all the problems that occur in real life, 2. the imaginative improvement on Cognitive Edge’s use of triads as tools to enabling self-signifier tools, a circular device call the story marbles approach. This enables respondents to choose which of x categories they will use and then indicate to what extent each of these categories apply to their story. It meets the requirement the author described thus: “What we need is a means to let the storyteller define the right question while also constraining the possible questions enough that we will derive useful clusters of stories with similar question frames.”

Theory of Change: A thinking and action approach to navigate in the complexity of social change processes

Iñigo Retolaza Eguren, HIVOS/DD/UNDP, May 2011 Available as pdf.

“This guide has been jointly published by Hivos and UNDP, and is aimed at the rich constellation of actors linked to processes of social development and change: bilateral donors, community leaders, political and social leaders, NGO’s representatives, community-base organizations, social movements, public decision makers, and other actors related to social change processes.

The Theory of Change approach applied to social change processes represents a thinking-action alternative to other more rigid planning approaches and logics. When living in complex and conflictive times, we need to count with more flexible instruments that allow us to plan and monitor our actions in uncertain, emergent, and complex contexts from a flexible and non-rigid logic. As known, this thinking-action approach is also applied to institutional coaching processes and to the design of social development and change programs.

In general terms, the Guide synthesizes the core of the methodological contents and steps that are developed in a Theory of Change design workshop. The first part of the Guide describes some theoretical elements to consider when designing a Theory of Change applied to social change processes. The second part describes the basic methodological steps to develop in every design of a Theory of Change. For reinforcing this practical part, a workshop route is included, illustrating the dynamics in a workshop of this kind.

The approach and contents of the guide emerge from the learning synthesis of the author, Iñigo Retolaza, as facilitator of Theory of Change design processes where social change actors from several Latin American countries have been involved. His two main bodies of experience and knowledge are: (i) the learning space offered by Hivos, where he could facilitate several Theory of Change workshops with Hivos partner organisations in South and Central America, and (ii) his professional relation with the Democratic Dialogue Regional Project of UNDP, from a research-action approach around dialogic processes applied to various areas of the socio-political field: national dialogues on public policy making and adjusting and legislative proposals, facilitation of national and regional dialogue spaces on several issues, capacity building on dialogue for social and political leaders from several countries in the region”

 

 

GTZ/BMZ Evaluation and Systems Conference papers

(via Bob Williams on EvalSys)

Systemic Approaches in Evaluation

Documentation of the Conference on 25-26 January 2011

“Development programs promote complex reforms and change processes. Such processes are often characterized by insecurity and unpredictability, posing a big challenge to the evaluation of development projects. In order to understand which projects work, why and under which conditions, evaluations also need to embrace the interaction of various influencing factors and the multi-dimensionality of societal change. However, present evaluation approaches often premise predictability and linearity of event chains.

In order to fill this gap, systemic approaches in evaluation of development programs are increasingly being discussed. A key concept is interdependency instead of linear cause-effect-relations. Systemic approaches in evaluation focus on interrelations and the interaction between various stakeholders with different motivations, interests, perceptions and perspectives.

On January 25 and 26, 2011 the Evaluation and Audit Division of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Evaluation Unit of GIZ offered a forum to discuss systemic approaches to evaluation at an international conference.
More than 200 participants from academia, consulting firms and NGOs discussed, amongst others, the following questions:

  • What are systemic approaches in evaluation?
  • For which kind of evaluations are systemic approaches (not) useful? Can they be used to enhance accountability, for example?
  • Are rigorous impact studies and systemic evaluations antipodes or can we combine elements of both approaches?
  • Which concrete methods and tools can be used in systemic evaluation?

On this website you will find the documentation of all sessions, speeches and discussion rounds. The main conclusions of the conference were summarized in the  final panel discussion.”

 

Evaluation Revisited – Improving the Quality of Evaluative Practice by Embracing Complexity

Utrecht Conference Report. Irene Guijt, Jan Brouwers, Cecile Kusters, Ester Prins and Bayaz Zeynalova. March 2011. Available as pdf

This report summarises the outline and outputs of the Conference ‘Evaluation Revisited: Improving the Quality of Evaluative Practice by Embracing Complexity’’, which took place on May 20-21, 2010. It also adds additional insights and observations related to the themes of the conference, which emerged in presentations about the conference at specific events.

Contents (109 pages):

1 What is Contested and What is at Stake
1.1 Trends at Loggerheads
1.2 What is at Stake?
1.3 About the May Conference
1.4 About the Report
2 Four Concepts Central to the Conference
2.1 Rigour
2.2 Values
2.3 Standards
2.4 Complexity
3 Three Questions and Three Strategies for Change
3.1 What does ‘evaluative practice that embraces complexity’ mean in practice?
3.2 Trade-offs and their Consequences
3.3 (Re)legitimise Choice for Complexity
4 The Conference Process in a Nutshell

IMPACT AND AID EFFECTIVENESS: Mapping the Issues and their Consequences

[from the IDS Virtual Bulletin, March 2011]

Introduction
In this virtual Bulletin we bring together ten articles dating from across three decades. They all address Impact. From the outset, we note that there are a number of common threads and ideas that stretch across all the articles:

  • The implicit emphasis of all the articles on complexity
  • The breadth and depth of impact analysis, from the national level to the individual
  • The importance of knowing the audience for any evaluation or impact assessment
  • The virtuous cycle that can be created by using insights into impact to adjust interventions
  • The dependency of that virtuous cycle on participation and engagement of programme staff and clients.

What we notice, however, is how the articles framing these issues vary according to discipline and research site. We also see how some ongoing preoccupations have been shaped by their proximity to other debates or policy concerns. Our hope is that hindsight will provide some perspective for practice and policy going forward.
View Full Introduction

Articles
A Revolution Whose Time Has Come? The Win-Win of Quantitative Participatory Approaches and Methods
IDS Bulletin Volume 41, Issue 6, November 2010
Robert Chambers

Impact of Microfinance on Rural Households in the Philippines
IDS Bulletin Volume 39, Issue 1, March 2008
Toshio Kondo, Aniceto Orbeta, Clarence Dingcong and Christine Infantado

You Can Get It If You Really Want’: Impact Evaluation Experience of the Office of Evaluation and Oversight of the Inter-American Development Bank
IDS Bulletin Volume 39, Issue 1, March 2008
Inder Jit Ruprah

The Role of Evaluation in Accountability in Donor-Funded Projects
IDS Bulletin Volume 31, Issue 1, January 2000
Adebiyi Edun

Micro-Credit Programme Evaluation: A Critical Review†
IDS Bulletin Volume 29, Issue 4, October 1998
Shahidur R. Khandker

Macroeconomic Evaluation of Programme Aid: A Conceptual Framework
IDS Bulletin Volume 27, Issue 4, October 1996
Howard White

Measurement of Poverty and Poverty of Measurement
IDS Bulletin Volume 25, Issue 2, April 1994
Martin Greeley

Developing Effective Study Programmes for Public Administrators
IDS Bulletin Volume 8, Issue 4, May 2009
Ron Goslin

Improving the Effectiveness of Evaluation in Rural Development Projects
IDS Bulletin Volume 8, Issue 1, July 1976
B. H. Kinsey

Managing Rural Development
IDS Bulletin, Volume 6, Issue 1, September 1974
Robert Chambers

Collective Impact

by John Kania and Mark Kramer, Standford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011. Available online and as pdf

The same work has also been the subject of a New York Times article “Coming Together to Give Schools a Boost By DAVID BORNSTEIN March 7, 2011.  And further material is also available on the FSG website, a consultancy group involved in the process.

Excerpts:

“… Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations

“The social sector  is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of  joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. ”

“Shifting from isolated impact to collective impact is not merely a matter of encouraging more collaboration or public-private partnerships. It requires a systemic approach to social impact that focuses on the relationships between organizations and the progress toward shared objectives. And it requires the creation of a new set of nonprofit management organizations that have the skills and resources to assemble and coordinate the speciic elements necessary for collective action to succeed.”

“…Our research shows that successful collective impact initiatives typically have f ive conditions that together produce true alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.”