Friday, October 19, 2007

Katine: an experiment in more publicly transparent aid processes

Katine is a sub-district of Uganda (map). It is the location of an AMREF development project, funded by the Guardian, and Barclays Bank, starting this year, and scheduled to run for three years. Information about the project will be provided, and regularly updated, on a dedicated Guardian webpage

I will making a number of postings here (on Rick on the Road) and on the Guardian website, about the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of this project.

At this early stage, there are some identifiable challenges. Some old, some new.
Old ones, which I am already familiar with, will need to be addressed by AMREF in the first instance:

Are the project objectives clear enough to be "evaluable"? Or are they just too fuzzy for anyone to judge? Right now the project staff are engaged in a process of participatory planning with people in Katine. Hopefully this will lead to some more clearly defined objectives, with identifiable and maybe even measurable outcomes, that all agree should be achieved. For example, that 95% of school age girls in the sub-district complete primary school

Amongst the many project activities (relating to education, employment, health and local governance) is there a clear sense of priorities? For example, that improvements in education are most important of all. Without this clarity, it will be hard to weigh up the different achievements and to reach a conclusion about overall success. Ideally the biggest achievements will be in the highest priority areas.

In reality there will be differing views on priorities, and even on the most important expected changes within each area (education, health, etc). Women will probably have different view to men, children will have different views to adults, poorer households will have different views to richer households, etc. Especially within a population of x,000 people. So, the third challenge will be to identify who are the different stakeholders in the project, and how their interests differ. And whose interests should the project prioritise

There are also some new issues, that I will have to address.

AMREF already has staff who are responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of the performance of its projects. But the Guardian and Barclays felt the need for an external M&E person, at least in the earliest stages of this project. The challenge for me is to make my role useful to both parties (AMREF and its two donors) but also to progressively phase out my role , as the Guardian and Barclays gain confidence in AMREF's own capacities to monitor and evaluate its own performance.

Unlike most development aid projects, this project will be in the public eye, via the Guardian, from the beginning. A Ugandan journalist will be based in the community, on a part time basis. The Guardian will be running a blog on the project for three years. There may even be a community run blog, whereby they tell the world, especially the UK, their vew of things. Where possible, project documentation will be made publicly available. All this has risks, as well as great potential for increasing public understanding about how development and aid work (and sometimes doesnt work). The second and much bigger challenge for me here is how to monitor and evaluate the impact of this public exposure

Another challenge, less threatening, will be how to best make use of this major opportunity to communicate with a large number of people. How can we get people to think about development as it happens in real life? Without drowning them in development jargon. And without reinforcing uncritical views about how easy it is to "help people" Perhaps we should start by remembering a quote from Henry Thoreau:
"If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life...for fear that I should get some of his good done to me"


  1. in 1997 I started a website for a small village, where I worked for FARM Africa. I tried to get support and funding to continue but got nowhere.

    One NGO said that 'the internet was too advanced for Africans'. At another I explained that there was a lot of reporting on villages and evaluations but villagers were rarely asked for their views and never got to see the reports.

    I suggested to the leader of a large and long standing project, that a website, run by the village, would make things more democratic as they could write on a global platform about working with each NGO.

    He looked horrified and stuttered out "But the donors would read it!"

    It remains to be seen how much of the Guardian Katine site will be produced and managed by the community, but characterising them as being in the 14th Century may not be the best start.

    If you're interested my site, made by and with the community is here:

  2. Hi Rick,
    I'd be interested to hear your views of the Katine project through the lens of Outcome Mapping.

    Will OM (either as a tool or simply as a guiding principle) play any part in your evaluation?

    Many thanks,

    Simon Hearn

  3. i've looked only quickly at the website. I'm surprised that what you call 'the katrine debate' in your links only links to the guardian, barclays, amref and yourself. Not much of a debate, is it, unless you plough through the guardian's reader's comments?

    I've been casually following the katrine project through the guardian website since it started. I've been working with international charities for many years and I thought that maybe AMREF was taking some risk through such exposure. But I haven't seen that happen. At least not yet. Available documents on this site are as impenetrable to educated people as any document I've written over the last number of years.

    I'm sorry to be pessimistic. But on a first glance it seems to be same old same old. I'll keep checking back over the years and I hope to proved wrong.

  4. Hi Kifimbocheza

    1. What other websites would you suggest I list here? I have listed all the website that I know have materials on the Katine project

    2. If there is a focal point for any debates on Katine so far it is the Guardian website, especially the blogs on Katine and the associated readers comments.

    3. Re the Guardian Katine blogs I was disappointed to find that there is a time limit beyond which further comments are not allowed on a given posting (about two weeks I think). However there is now, after I asked, an Archive feature that allows you to find blog postings for each month since the project started.

    4. Re risk taking by AMREF, it is still early days, so stay tuned. I have asked AMREF to indicate which documents they have supplied to me will be made publicly available via the internet, including both AMREF and this website. I will continue to pursue this request, as I do in all the development projects I work with these days.

    5. I think the material on the Guardian website is readable by the majority of people. But the material on my website is not, it is aimed at a specialist audience, people who are interested and usually working in the area of monitoring and evaluation. I run this website at my cost, and write what I want to write to who I want. But... I am sure I could always do better at expressing my thoughts and views in a way that more people understood

    Please do return again. And take the opportunity whenever you can, to post comments on the blog postings on the Guardian Katine website

    regards, rick

  5. Rick
    thanks for the reply. quickly, the surprising thing is the lack of websites looking at Katine. I guess the guardian would have expected some blog action around this, but it hasn't happened. Mind you, Africa and development issues are not top in blogging themes.

    My favourite comment (forgive me) is to be found on the blog of a young british poet.

    If you get a chance, check out her graphic critique of a poetry collection. Superb. Also available on her blog, click on the cartoon if you see one.