In 2013, I was leading a gender and peace building workshop in which the organisers intuitively built in institutional work as an essential part of creating peaceful and holistic societies. Organisations present were asked to look inward at their personal and institutional practices and values on gender. As part of institutional reflection, we invited three organisations in the host country to speak about the meaning of building gender equitable organisations. Two of the presenters highlighted their activities and achievements. The final presenter focused on the sweat, blood and tears that her organisation had gone through in its close to fifteen year journey of working to end gender based violence. She did this through illustrations[i] that highlighted six major moments in her organisation’s growth cycle.
It was a presentation that was cited repeatedly during the workshop because it did two things. First, it told the story behind the story. This is the story behind activities, staff qualifications, experience and strategic plans which could be found on the website but which do not tell us what it means to do the work and live the values. Second, it challenged the workshop participants who had hitherto declared that their organisations were very gender sensitive, to re-examine the true state of their institutions beyond the value statements on banners and websites.
What does the above have to do with results based programming (RBP)? RBP contains sometimes confusing terminology – outputs, outcomes, results, indicators and targets, which are accompanied by multiple ways of thinking, writing up and collecting evidence to support each. It is a received framework – World Bank derived – which makes institutions and individuals that want to build organic processes that speak to their contexts reluctant to use it.
However, in my view, RBP is simply a process that enables us to tell a compelling story about why we do the work we do. This is a story that does not start with the strategic plan, priority areas and activities, however critical they are in the later stages of an organisation’s planning process. It starts withcontinuous reflection on the vision for change we desire in our communities and why we are best positioned to deliver it. Second, RBP as a framework asks us to take a step back to assess whether the change we desire is supported by a sound analysis of the root causes of the problem and its current manifestations. Third, can aspects of the change we desire be achieved through the set of priorities we have identified and the constituencies we have targeted? Fourth are we realistic about our ability to deliver what we plan for with our communities. Fifth, how do we know when change is happening and our role in it?
In May 2014, at a workshop on RBP with twenty small to medium sized organisations that are AWDF grantees, 10 lessons emerged about the meaning of creating and articulating innovative programmes within our communities:
- Clarity: RBP terms can be confusing but it is a process that begins with clarity of purpose. We may all want “happy, healthy societies for women” – but each organisation wants it for a different reason. The need to be clear about what you believe “happy, health societies” will achieve and how you realistically propose to get there is an essential part of the programming journey. Clarity about who you are working with, where and why you are doing a specific activity/project/programme will make the process of planning for reporting and tracking much simpler especially when you are a small organisation
- Identifying our strengths: Most of our work is driven by compassion, personal experience and the failure of the state to deliver services amongst others factors. As a result, we do not create time to reflect on our capacity to drive the change we seek. It is important to identify where our strengths lie and build on those as well as identify our weaknesses and plan to improve on them. This process facilitates effective and efficient programmes and allows us to identify where additional resources need to go to in order to strengthen our organisations as vehicles for movement building.
- Root cause analysis: The absence of “happy, healthy societies” is caused by a number of factors, some of them decades in the making. Do we have a sense of what the causes are and the factors that prevent these causes from being resolved? Mapping our understanding of the state of affairs, why we believe it persists and how to transform it offers a good foundation for reviewing our journey towards changing the status quo. Sometimes, our analysis of root causes, are found in broad statements such as “poverty”, “lack of policies”, “culture”. While valid, it makes it difficult to make a case for how training 6,000 rural women in business skills in a remote village in Namibia will resolve poverty and the lack of enabling government policies in that village. Making a clear (even though life is complex) link between the activities you propose, your target groups and how the changes you envisage contribute to resolving what you have identified as the problem is a useful element of RBP.
- Responding to causes and consequences: How much of our work is geared towards dealing with the causes of the problem? How much work deals with the factors that sustain the problem? How much of our work responds to other things that are remotely related to the problem? Continuously developing clarity about how your work contributes to resolving the factors that cause as well as enable the problems you are responding to, facilitates a more thoughtful mapping of who else is working on the issue, why you need to work with them (and sometimes against them), at what level and how – as allies, influencers, power brokers, gate keepers and direct constituencies who sustain movements for change.
- The value of numbers: The pressure associated with raising funds to sustain organisations means that we articulate our work as sets of activities and the immediate results. We focus less on how those activities contribute to the broader change the organisations were set up to achieve. For example, a report that begins and ends with 6,000 women were trained in business skills, effectively shows how 5000USD was spent. However, when we think beyond shillings and cents, speaking about what why that training was useful in the first place is a more useful story about impact. Articulating the value of training 6,000 women and gathering evidence to show what the training has facilitated in real terms, is the next layer – medium term – of thinking about results within the RBP framework. How many of the women who were trained are using those skills, in what areas, with what effect on their livelihoods and that of their communities. RBP pushes us to think about the transformative intention of the numbers.
- Plan and write for you: when we are accountable to ourselves and not to the next reporting cycle that releases funds, then our commitment to planning for and reflecting on the work becomes part of movement building and creating institutional memory. The identification of sign posts of change – indicators, developing simple mechanisms to collect information regularly and building memory through reports, discussions, debates, videos, becomes part of a learning journey for the organization and not a process initiated for funders.
- Proof: There is immense anxiety around proving to donors that work is being done. When focus is placed on proving to donors, the last minute collection of proof to show impact follows. This proof is often in the form of quotations from beneficiaries – “we are very grateful for the training X gave us”, case studies and pictures. While all of this is important, this proof is often used for “show and tell” purposes. It is evidence that we were here and a workshop was done. It is proof that we met the Y ministers we said we would meet. The pictures and videos should not be seen as proof of work done but as the illustration of how the change (impact) process is unfolding.
- Honour the experiences: Always remember that one size does not fit all. Interventions and subsequent reporting mechanisms need to suit the constituencies you work with and honour their agency. While stories about an individual in a community are powerful, stories about communities and their journey with you are equally compelling. It enables us see the connections in peoples lives and the process of change. In the era of social media, we should not always be pressured to find the perfect quote that can be re-tweeted or blogged about. We must remain authentic to the essence of the message/story/testimonyshared with us. We are entrusted with stories by virtue of our work, honour them as part of us but also as part of the lives they speak about.
- Reflect and review: The process of implementing programmes and writing about failures and successes is ultimately a process about studying our environment and how it is adapting to and/or resisting change. Challenges and obstacles are an essential part of understanding the environments we operate in, the new dynamics that shape our work and the lives of our constituents. Do not lose the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of those challenges in order to emphasize how successful you are. Challenges enable us review our approach to the change (impact) journey and keep us alert to mapping the state of affairs, our responses and the new barriers that block change.
- The soul: Always remember the passion and purpose that drove the work when it all begun. Organisations must grow, however, it is important to focus on what you know best and strengthen how you deliver it in response to new challenges and innovations. The pressure to take on new areas of work because of funding opportunities should not drive how our movements grow. Always remember the story behind the story. The spirit that started the journey.
[i]Start and launch; grow and deliver; delegate and evaluate; specialize and control; renew and rebuild; envision and commit
Dr. Awino Okech is a programme development and management specialist with 10 years experience in the delivery of social justice programming in Eastern Africa and the Great Lakes region.