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"