Monday, 23 April 2012

Soft Chalk, Post-It Notes & Oblong Seeds!





Almost two months have gone by since Gok Wan limped onto the stage at Newbury racecourse to welcome all 500 of us World of Difference winners… And in a little over two months from now, I will be on my way to Kenya & Tanzania, to spend time in the communities of two of Quest’s projects. This trip, my first to East Africa, will pull together all the work I have been doing during my WOD placement in developing a strategy for Monitoring & Evaluation of Quest’s current projects. My first stop once I arrive in Nairobi will be the local market, to pick up two essential tools: Firstly, some dry beans (not round ones like chick peas, but the oblong sort that don’t roll away – I will explain shortly!) and secondly, local chalk - It has to be local, as Robert Chambers (legend and pioneer of Participatory Rural Appraisals - PRA) explained at the weekend during a workshop on participatory workshops, UK chalk is designed for hard surfaces, and will snap on the softer earthier surfaces generally found in rural Africa. With my soft chalk and selection of beans in hand, I will be good to go.



In order to find more formal ways of measuring the impact we are having, I have been utilising the literature on PLA (Participatory Learning Action) and all these other wonderful tools and methodologies that are at the forefront of participatory development. The idea behind PLA is that it is qualitative research done by local people, with a view to turning learning into action. So far, the strategy looks something like this:


Gather all the key people involved in the project (ideally around 4-8 people) for a session or series of sessions… The first task is a stakeholder analysis – a brainstorming session to identify all the various people who are affected by and can have an effect the project. The idea here is that each person sitting around the table (or under a tree, wherever we find ourselves) will have a unique vantage point, and will understand the complex situations of individual stakeholders. Once a comprehensive list has been written down (my trusty post-it notes will be invaluable for this), the group can use another handy tool, the ‘importance/influence’ table to identify the ways in which each stakeholder has power (or not) within the project. From this information, strategies can be developed to talk with various stakeholders at different times and in different capacities.


After this, a problem tree exercise can be used, again another brainstorming exercise, again with post it notes… Essentially this tool is a visual aid to identify the key problem amongst an array of issues, filtering them into root causes and effects… It can be surprisingly difficult to reach a consensus on the main problem - again as everyone has different experiences and knowledge. Once identified however, it is easier to look at the project work objectively and say, how is what we are doing tackling the key issue? If it is not, how can we adapt our work?  Here is an example of a problem tree:



The problem tree
After this, it may be useful to use some form of ranking & sorting tools, to look at specifics within the projects… This is where my beans come in handy… The group can take any topic or subject and assess it by any criteria, for example, to gauge the various income generation projects Quest is involved in in Tanzania:  The method is simple:  Draw a table on the ground using chalk or on big paper...  List the categories along the top:


Tilapia Ponds - Keyhole Gardens - Bag Gardens - School Farm


Then list the criteria to measure each along the side:

Cost to build

Time required to build

Income generated after 6 months

Income generated after 2 years

Upkeep required


Using the seeds, the group can score each category by each criteria – resulting in a very quick visual representation of how useful each project is…   Here is an example found online:




So that is where I am at with the M&E strategy, thanks to WOD, time to get back to it.

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