Taking stock of CSI spend
Monitoring has improved from only tracking expenditure to also tracking outputs and outcomes indicators, as well as conducting site visits to funded projects. Despite the increased attention on accountability, significant strides still need to be made on evaluation.
This refers to a periodic process of gathering data. It is then analysed appropriately to determine the extent to which a CSI programme is effectively carrying out planned activities, fulfilling stated objectives and achieving anticipated results.
Taking stock of a CSI programme reveals factors contributing to its effectiveness or otherwise, and helps to account for the monetary investment made in relation to its impact on intended beneficiaries.
This information informs decision-making and strategy adjustments as the programme continues. CSI managers must put aside any emotions that might be at play when evaluation results are made available. They must be willing to accept and internalise the good, the bad and the ugly revealed by the results.
It is said that mistakes are proof that something is happening, and only those who are doing something are likely to make mistakes. This is often the case when CSI managers and development champions on the ground tackle development issues. It is likely that they will not achieve results as initially envisaged because of various factors.
Evaluation results provide an opportunity to reflect on what works and what does not, and to learn about the contributing factors to both. They are a diagnostic tool, used to keep strategies relevant and appropriate.
Perhaps the worst use of evaluation results is to "punish" those who are considered ineffective in delivering on projects, or withdrawing funding from projects following disappointing results. In order to learn constructively from evaluation results, CSI and fund managers should apply the following guidelines:
• Share evaluation results with the projects concerned, reflecting on both the effective and ineffective strategies that contributed towards the achievement or failure to meet objectives;
• Consider variations in strategy that need to be adopted to improve the "grey" areas and further strengthen areas that are successful;
• Identify the short-, medium- and long-term actions required to achieve the desired results;
• Identify the strengths and limitations of each partner — both the CSI manager or funder and the project — in terms of implementing the identified strategies;
• Agree on the actions required, resources, timeframes and the envisaged results expected;
• Implement and continually reflect on the revised activities to assess whether there is a change in the results now received; and
• Be prepared to do business unusual: evaluation results may suggest changes in implementation strategies and focus areas for funding, especially when the strategies under review prove unsuitable to addressing a particular challenge in the community. In these instances, the CSI funder and the funded organisation should be prepared to part ways with the familiar manner of operating their programme.
There is likely to be reluctance and anxiety about change because it takes everyone out of their comfort zones, therefore how change is managed is critically important. Changes to programme structure, objectives or personnel can be introduced in phases instead of overhauling the whole programme at once.
Defining short-, medium- and long-term actions might prove less overwhelming for those involved in implementation. Communication of proposed changes with a project is important, as is the assessment of the strengths and willingness of each partner to adapt to these changes.
Mokibelo Ntshabeleng is a monitoring and evaluation specialist with Tshikululu Social Investments
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