Effective CSI Programmes Need Evaluation

Monitoring and Evaluation corporate social investment projects
Tuesday, 21 May, 2013 - 13:52

In this article, the author emphasises the significance of monitoring and evaluating CSI programmes to improve their impact and address specific challenges experienced during implementation

Since 2009, the development sector has made a notable shift in the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) practices of corporate social investment (CSI) programmes.
Trialogue reported in their 2012 CSI Handbook that while the sector is still focusing less on evaluations, monitoring of programmes has improved from tracking only expenditure to additionally tracking outputs and outcomes indicators; and conducting site visits of funded projects.
While the attention on more and more accountability for the results of social investments increases, we are yet to see significant strides on the evaluation part of M&E.
Within our sector, evaluation refers to a periodic process of gathering data and then analysing it appropriately to determine to what extent a CSI programme is effectively carrying out planned activities, fulfilling stated objectives and achieving anticipated results.
By taking stock of CSI programmes through evaluation, we learn about the contributing factors to both ineffectiveness and effectiveness of programmes, and account for the monetary investment made by relating that to the impact of the CSI programme on its intended beneficiaries. This information then informs decision-making and strategy adjustments as the programme continues.
CSI managers must consciously manage the emotions that might be at play when evaluation results are finally available. The following elements should underpin the use of commissioning and using the evaluation:
The willingness and readiness to accept and internalise evaluation results, both ‘the good’, ‘the bad’, and ‘the ugly’
Have you ever heard the saying ‘the mistakes are the proof that something was happening; and only those who are doing something are likely to make mistakes’? This is exactly what happens when CSI managers, together with development champions on the ground, tackle development issues. There is every likelihood that they will not achieve results as initially envisaged due to various factors. When evaluation results are received, think of them as an opportunity to reflect on what works and what does not, and learn about the contributing factors to both revelations. Evaluation results are a diagnosis tool, used to keep strategies relevant and appropriate.
Do not use evaluation results as a punitive measure
Perhaps the worst use of evaluation results is to ‘punish’ those considered ineffective in delivering the projects, even withdrawing funding from projects following unanticipated and disappointing results. In order to learn constructively from evaluation results, the following guidelines should be explored:

  • 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 and goals;
  • 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; and
  • Implement and continuously reflect on the revised activities to assess whether there is a change in the results now received.

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 funded organisation should be prepared to part ways with the familiar manner of operating their programme.
There will always be reluctance and anxiety towards change as it takes everyone out of their comfort zones, so how change is managed is critically important. The changes to programme structure or objectives or personnel or whatever else they may be can be introduced in phases instead of overhauling the whole programme at once. Setting 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 monitoring and evaluation specialist at Tshikululu Social Investments. This article first appeared on the TSI website (www.tsi.org.za). 

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