The international Coronavirus outbreak has serious implications for democracy worldwide. In the #NeverLockdownDemocracy blog series, the NIMD network takes a global view of how we can respond to the pandemic as we continue our work to protect democracy. Follow @WeAreNIMD on Twitter and the hashtag #NeverLockdownDemocracy to never miss a post.
By Nic van der Jagt, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor, NIMD
Capturing your impact after the lockdown
With the outbreak of COVID-19, many international development programmes will be on hold. Social distancing requirements mean that activities will be cancelled. Interventions will be delayed, maybe delivered through online means. But in general because people will be so preoccupied by issues of health and employment, income and groceries, and staying safe, participation rates in programme activities will be down.
Regardless of when the lockdown period ends, many of our goals and plans for 2020 will not be fit for purpose. This leads to an important questions for development organizations, their donors, and the beneficiaries: what can be done now to honour programmes’ planned activities and results?
How are NIMD’s Democracy Schools reacting to Coronavirus?
The implications for NIMD’s programmes are already serious. The work of our country offices and partner organizations relies on a lot of face-to face contact between political and civic actors. For example, our Democracy Schools, which host intensive weekend training programmes and longer residential training sessions, are largely on hold.
Yet in Tunisia, smaller groups of young politicians and civil society leaders are attending shorter online sessions through digital conferencing tools in order to maintain social distancing. Our Tunisian partner, the Centre des Etudes Méditerranéennes et Internationales (CEMI), kicked off their online training with a two-day training session for its new Parliamentary Assistant Academy.
Despite these innovations, the reality is that bringing politicians together physically will therefore inevitably become more difficult. This applies not only to the participants in our Democracy Schools, but also those in our interparty dialogue programmes and party capacity strengthening work.
So what can I tell my donors and beneficiaries?
To me as a monitoring and evaluation specialist, I am very aware that there will be consequences for programmes’ results: no activities may mean no results. Or improvised or new programming, may mean targets agreed with donors before the pandemic will not be achievable.
Flexible responses from donors are therefore very helpful and important. But the situation also calls for flexibility from our side. One way to do that is through the creative use of the monitoring and evaluation toolkit already at our disposal. After all, it’s no secret that programmes in the real world are often affected by unforeseen context changes, and usually interventions’ effects are not well-known in advance anyway.
For NIMD programmes, complexity – particularly due to the political nature of our work – is high. Programme adaptations are often required as a matter of course. It was for these reasons that NIMD adopted Outcome Harvesting as a monitoring and evaluation methodology in several programmes, an approach I think can help us meet our accountability requirements during the COVID-19 crisis.
What is Outcome Harvesting?
Outcome Harvesting is a relatively new monitoring tool. In August 2013, the UNDP evaluation office selected Outcome Harvesting as a promising innovation in monitoring and evaluation practice. The World Bank then published a booklet of cases in 2014, and USAID acknowledges Outcome Harvesting as one of five approaches especially well-suited for evaluation practitioners operating in dynamic, uncertain (i.e. complex) situations. This has allowed Outcome Harvesting to gain recognition as a mainstream evaluation approach, and its methods were thus codified in Ricardo Wilson-Grau’s 2018 book Outcome Harvesting: Principles, Steps and Evaluation Applications.
Outcome Harvesting is a participatory tool that enables you to identify, verify, and make sense of outcomes your programme has influenced when relationships of cause and effect are unknown. Firstly, you sit down with programme implementers (in NIMD’s case, our country offices and partner organizations) in a workshop format. You then collectively identify the actors and beneficiaries your interventions have tried to affect, and you analyse (or “harvest”) how and these actors and beneficiaries have actually changed their behaviour – in so-called outcome descriptions. The Outcome Harvest then concludes by isolating whether and how programme activities impacted on, or contributed to the outcome.
The team will then verify through independent sources whether their outcome descriptions are accurate. By collecting evidence of what has been achieved, and working backward to determine whether and how the project or intervention contributed to the change, this evaluation method is especially well-suited for programmes operating in dynamic, uncertain situations.
Putting the theory into practice
NIMD has, with the help of consultants Ricardo Wilson-Grau and Goele Scheers, used Outcome Harvesting to evaluate our programmes at mid-term in Mali, Colombia, Mozambique and Tunisia. More recently, we did the same internally for our programmes in Myanmar and Kenya. In both cases, contextual changes had happened, and programme adaptations had to be made. Outcome Harvesting showed us what outcomes were being achieved, and helped us convincingly report them to our management and donors.
We have also introduced an adaptation of the Outcome Harvesting methodology in our monitoring approach to all of our country programmes. That means we can capture political changes of all types, avoiding being blinkered by sticking to pre-agreed indicators. And this allows us to test our theories of change much more practically.
So what to do when lockdown ends?
When the Corona crisis is over and programming results need to be assessed, it will be good to invest in Outcome Harvesting approaches to learn from and account for interventions. Logframes will have become irrelevant, and many of your indicator measurements will make little sense because the link between your indicators and your actual interventions will have been lost . Outcome Harvesting will be able to show you what has changed, and you can then reason back to what the activities have been and contributions by partner organizations to these changes in difficult times.