It is a common development saying that “if you value a thing, then measure it”. Can we always get the right development impact? Then, can we measure development impact directly? I believe so. The dynamism observed in the development sector in most recent times have seen many metrics of change evolve. What does development impact imply these days? First of all, I will discuss what development impact is. Then I will analyze the relationship in the result chain. Finally, I will explore how to keep track of development impact. So let’s dig in!!
Introducing development impact…
Development Impacts are fundamental intended or unintended change occurring in organisations, communities or systems due to program/project activities. They often relate to the Sustainable Development Goals and are high level results that will only become obvious some years after the interventions have been concluded. This concept refers to the high level results that will be achieved at the end of a project. At this point, all activities on the project as well as all processes and machinery initiated by the project have ceased.
Care must be taken to understand what “end of a project” implies. In the context of development impact, projects are catalysts that bring about a desirable change without becoming an integral part of the change. The best form of project does not disrupt community life but throws light on a new direction. This is usually in the hope that people adopt or adapt as it suits them best. That way, a project ends and community life progresses naturally in a new direction. Project ideation, when properly conducted leads to great development projects. At the end of a good project, the most important result observed is development impact. I know this definition makes impact almost seem like something occurring due to chance. If you feel that way, never mind!!! Let’s clarify this in a bit.
Pre-determined or incidental?
Development impact is always pre-determined. It is a good practice to describe anticipated results from an intervention before it even begins. This practice of pre-determining development impact is necessary and easy if you have the right tool. One important tool for achieving this is the Logical Framework Analysis simply called logframe. The logframe shows the hierarchy of results from outputs, outcomes, Impacts as they relate to the planned activities, objectives and goal.
Other factors contributing to development impact
Development impacts are not always a direct result of program/project interventions. Other factors also contribute to impacts such as government policies, other related interventions by other organizations. It is difficult if not impossible for any one organization to achieve development impacts alone. By virtue of their nature, development impacts are qualitative. This means that they cause positive change in society life. Here are a few examples of development impacts to aid our understanding:
Improved health status of childbearing mothers in Nigeria.
Enhanced literacy levels among Alma-Jiri boys in Northern Nigeria.
Effective judicial system in Enugu.
These are ideals which cannot be easily achieved by any one intervention. For instance, health status of childbearing mothers will rely on a lot of factors to be improved. Such factors include: increased government funding of maternal health services (MHS), provision/access/use of MHS, competence of healthcare providers, cooperation of religious, sociocultural systems, adequate nutrition, increased income levels, adequate water and sanitation, good housing, freedom from physical abuse, etc. No single project can address all these issues. Thus, a good project can contribute to a development impact. What can be determined is to what extent your project has contributed across the result chain.
The impact is the result of achieving the goal of the program/project.
Outcomes are specific changes in program participant’s behaviour, knowledge, skills, status and level of functioning. They are intermediary (mid-term) results that are observable after several years less than five (5). Outcomes are often observable at the end of program/project activities. They are often qualitative and a direct result of successfully achieving the aims of a program/project.
Outputs are direct products of program activities and may include types, levels and targets of services to be delivered by the program.
The relationship between impacts, outcomes and outputs is illustrated below:
A clear direct relationship between the various levels of result. To determine when results transcend from one level to another, careful monitoring must be implemented.
Monitoring development impact
For starters, monitoring is an ongoing process involving close direct observation of project activities to determine that they are on track. The importance of monitoring impact is great because it provides opportunities to adjust results (outputs) during project implementation. Well planned projects dedicate good resources to track results. This is done at the level of input, activity and output. More recent times have seen the concept of evaluative monitoring develop and allows project results receive spot assessment.
Human societies are very dynamic. Hence, it is often not possible for situations to stay constant. In other words, things change and can sometimes affect the outcome of a project. The situation of things when a project was designed are often based on assumptions. If unforeseen events occur like war or economic recession, then some aspects of the projects must change. It is safe to say that a project planned for a time of peace will be poorly executed in a time of war. So when the situations change, so must the project to get the best possible results. That captures the essence of monitoring. It shows when a project is off-track and then suggests ways to readjust without compromising set goals and objectives. Note that external factors (things outside the project’s control but can affect project results) can mess with project implementation. They produce unexpected results which may be positive or negative. Effective Monitoring can also help project managers make adjustments where the need arises.
How to know the right development impact…
It is the responsibility of the donor mainly to figure that the right development impact has been achieved. They do this by evaluation of projects. If you are wondering why it is the donor who worries about development impact, then you should probably read our article on where grant monies come from. Despite this, the project manager is usually expected to develop monitoring and evaluation plan when planning the project. Thus, determining development impact is a shared responsibility between donor and project manager. The process is simple and straightforward. While monitoring is a continuous process throughout project life, evaluation is done midterm or at the project’s end. Evaluation will prove that the project aims have been achieved and to what extent.
To conduct monitoring and evaluation, there should be an internal mechanism to document results, risks, assumptions and performance regularly. Project team can keep track of results through review meetings and progress reports. At the beginning of the project, needs assessment research and baseline study should be done. They show the indicators against which monitoring and evaluation occurs. It is against the baseline information that the project activities are monitored. If at the time of writing the proposal, the baseline had not been conducted, it must be listed as one of the first activities to be executed in the project.
Who? Internal versus external?
Monitoring projects can be conducted internally by the project team. Evaluation is carried out by an external agency during the mid-term or in the end part of the project. External agencies or people who have high levels of competencies in project evaluation are desirable. This should be under the condition that evaluator bias is avoided. There are recent techniques for evaluating development impact. One of the most popular ones is the Managing for Sustainable Development Impact (M4SDI) approach.
Report development impact promptly!!!
Development impacts are useless if they are not reported adequately. Reports are generated from the monitoring activities conducted. Reports can be internal and external. The donor may not be interested in the internal reporting mechanisms but will surely want to know about the external reporting mechanism. Internal reports are intra-organizational while external reports are usually between organizations, stakeholders and donor agency. The frequency of external reports should be constant: monthly, quarterly or annually. The key is to report as soon as there is an update.
Reporting formats should also be specified: hard copy, electronically, structured format / template from the donor. Finally, the nature of report content should also be specified: Narrative, Financial (including receipts/signed list, Pictures and other supporting document). I guess reporting is the easy part of the job. what is really requires is to talk about successes. If you do not blow your trumpet, who will blow it for you?
I hope I have shed some light on the concept of development impact. Let’s continue the conversation in the comment section. Cheers.