Evaluation5's Blog

April 12, 2010

Logic or Partners?

Filed under: evaluation5.0 — Tags: , , — evaluation5 @ 8:06 am

By: Bob van der Winden: see also bwsupport.wordpress.com

Apart from conducting evaluations I do also advise (International Cooperation) organisations in the development of their monitoring and evaluation systems, or better said: their quality systems.

In that work I encountered an interesting phenomenon: more and more I work with Southern organisations that (to a large extent) master the logical framework: of course not in the least because that is by and large the mainstream approach preached by the (Western) donor community. Their mission and vision are clearly formulated, their overall goal, intermediate objectives, expected outcome, matching activities, indicators: they are all there. Still they have problems in Monitoring; let’s say daily feedback (on what they have done and reached) and reflection on what will be the next step. That made me wonder how this logical framework thinking leads to building thoroughly developed projects and programmes, but at the same time lacks ‘handlebars’ for the daily practice.

Of course I have used the logical framework approach for years (I even taught it to a lot of newcomers in development cooperation!), I know how to build problem trees, solution trees, the framework itself, and that even in a participatory way, like the German GTZ once developed. I like the fact that the approach forces you to think about the links between your overall mission and how you want to reach it, which steps are necessary, etc. I saw in this case (a month ago while I was in West Africa) that the organisation was really using it, their planning was firmly based on 3 ’specific objectives’ , they wrote reports based on achieved results, but yet they seemed not to be able to link all these things to day-to-day practice and take simple management decisions, or organise less simple regular reflection around their achievements and ‘next steps to be taken’: desk officers were working hard in executing projects, building new projects in line with the ‘holy trinity’ of objectives, but it all did not lead to their satisfaction and synergy in their organisation.

It took me quite a while before I started to ’see the light’ after all the discussions I had with various people there… But I think in the end I found some leads. I saw that the systematic Logical framework approach forces people to think about the obvious programme logic but far too little about the programme’s partners and neither about the programme’s outcome (results as obtained by and ‘in’ the partners)… I started looking back to the various evaluation approaches I had used before and then it dawned to me, that specifically the Outcome Mapping approach was what this organisation needed as a counterweight to their (all too?) logical thinking!

Outcome mapping has been developed by the Canadian organisation IDRC, in order to solve the dispute about obtaining impact and, moreover, the attribution of impact to a certain programme. We all know it’s difficult, even only possible after quite a few years and the longer you wait, the less you can attribute it to a certain intervention…. So it becomes pretty hard to establish exactly what evaluations are supposed to establish!

Anyhow, the Outcome Mapping approach deals effectively with this issue by acknowledging this fact and directing us to (Boundary) partners and the outcome (defined as the change in behaviour of these partners, who are expected to contribute to the overall goal in the end). That is a radical step, and first and foremost it was – in my case – a relief for my partner, the West African organisation, because they could now focus on both (boundary) partners and outcome, instead of trying to establish that they reach (too) abstract or faraway goals / impact.
We are now in the middle of a process, based on the outcome mapping theory ( see http://www.idrc.ca) to develop a list of partners, through which the different programmes want to reach their goals, and defining a list of outcome challenges, as well as ‘graduated progress markers’.

Of course the outcome mapping system is closely ‘knit’ to the logical framework approach and in itself not a paradigm change (as are Fourth generation Evaluation and Most Significant Change), but I can tell you: it works well in practice with organisations that are used to the Logical Framework Approach and it is a lot more practical, yielding results in PME: Planning, Monitoring (and in a later stage I hope to let you know more about Evaluation as well!).

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