Project assessment and analysis is, of course, a crucial component of development work as a whole. It is vitally important, for a number of reasons, to understand the tangible implications of the work you are doing, and thus measure its effectiveness. It is, however, incredibly complex, and if you are not careful it can become shrouded in a thin veil of naïveté.
Fundamentally there are two methods of assessment:
1) Statistical - which is based on pre-set targets, and is generally carried out for the sake of donors.
2) Actual – which constitutes a much more in depth study that runs the risk of being consistently inconclusive.
Why is it so complex?
The stark reality is that effectiveness needs to be measured in the long term. It is not a successful project, for example, if a high number of children are enrolled in a primary school, but then very few continue on to secondary education. If, however, your project has the stated objectives of increasing the percentage of children attending primary school, then at least statistically, and in the eyes of the donors, it is successful.
It is complex because as a small or medium sized charity there is only so much you can do. With limited funding and resources, you simply can’t be expected to be able to complete the journey. Focus is key to smaller charities and community based projects, and too often a desire for conclusive effectiveness can spread your efforts to thinly. You must remain firmly focused on set objectives, yet also be aware of their limitations. This is where inter-charity cooperation comes in.
Inter-charity cooperation is absolutely crucial for long term, successful, and sustainable development. Without cooperation, there are a thousand pitfalls of which to fall into, and unfortunately no real method of avoiding them.
The millennium development goals themselves highlight such potential problems by including a focus on primary, but not secondary education. This has meant that there are a huge amount of projects focused on the former and very few on the latter. I have personally seen instances where a project has secured primary schooling for hundreds of children in rural areas, and yet less than 1% were then going onto secondary education.
This reality is baffling. To me it seems archaic, in the sense that some schooling is seen as an adequate solution. The issue is that, not only is this not the case, but actually projects like this can have negative long term implications on education as a whole. Many rural African communities for example, will lose faith in the benefits of education, if experience shows that it doesn’t progress onto better things.
The resolution for this is, quite simply, cooperation. If one project within a set location is focused on primary education, then another should try to assist in the next step. Development fundamentally is a sequence of small steps, and without each one fitting together you can simply be creating a road to nowhere. If charities work together, then they can ensure that collaboratively they give an individual or a community the necessary tools to thrive.
Not only does cooperation help in this respect, but it can also be an excellent way of attracting more donors. There are several major donor organisations that exclusively fund projects that are done in collaboration. Donors will be very impressed by the forward thinking nature of any proposal that encompasses different elements of development going hand in hand. It is not always ‘next steps’ that benefit from cooperation either, but at times simultaneous steps. Often a project done in collaboration can allow each charity to maintain a sharp focus, and not to get lost in unforeseen stumbling blocks.
What does this have to do with assessment?
As mentioned previously, there are two main types of assessment that a small charity should carry out. One would be the statistical assessment, to ensure that targets are met and donors satisfied, and the other is long term ‘actual assessment’.
‘Actual assessment’ is based on knowing the individual beneficiaries. It is complex in terms of it studying the overall effects of the charities support on an individual’s growth long into the future. When assessing the needs of a community, and consequently cooperating with other charities to fulfil each requirement, it is important to communicate actively with charitable partners. This will enable a more concrete assessment of not only the beneficiary’s economic development, but also their personal development as a whole.
Any development can be detrimental to an individual or a community if a focus on this ‘whole view’ is ignored. As mentioned previously, small charities simply don’t have the resources to fulfil this, but with a network of charities working together it is more than possible. This is simply the best way to learn lessons in development, and to correct past mistakes. If an element of the development path was missing or flawed, then it now can be corrected.
The forgotten factor
The entire realisation of ‘actual assessment’ really was inspired by a conversation with a Harvard Psychology Professor, working within slum neighbourhoods in Zimbabwe. It was a massive awakening for me, and really brought the full picture into focus.
Psychology has quite simply at times become the forgotten factor of development. It should be an important consideration when developing projects, and an even bigger aspect of assessment. Figures aside, it is the mental and physical development of an individual and a community as a whole that is the true measure of a projects success. If a project is seeing more people go to school, but then simultaneously observing a sharp rise in depression or alcoholism, then it is flawed.
Quite simply, we must always remember that we are dealing with human society. It is not a set of numbers or statistics, and neither do we have a template of which to go by. Support needs to be considered with an intense degree of care, and for me, cooperation is the most vital part of this, as not only does it help to paint the full picture, but it also it enables us to see it.