In the following section we’d like to share some of our lessons learnt whilst providing strategic advisory and impact management and measurement services to our clients. We trust this article will provide you with greater insights into your own social investment and grantmaking practices and that our contribution to the sector’s body of knowledge will help to fast track best practice in socio economic development strategies.
Impact Management Phase
Impact must be designed
In general, investment and development strategies are designed by
- service providers e.g. social purpose organisations or
- intermediaries e.g. not for profit organisations.
Whilst investors have a broad idea of what impact they want to achieve, we found it’s neither specific enough nor linked to impact targets.
Where proposals are submitted for funding, it’s assumed that
- extensive research has been conducted to ensure the validity of program design and
- extensive engagement has been conducted to ensure the inclusivity of the program design.
In most cases however, we find that impact is by default and not by design, meaning that unintended or indirect impact is more evident than intended and direct impact.
We believe that a clearly stated investment thesis, Theory of Change or logic model framework will ensure that all stakeholders in the impact value chain aim for the same objective.
The opportunity for investors is therefore to include the following explicitly in their program designs:
- a clear statement of the broader development problem to be addressed
- a clearly focused specification of a more limited development objective or goal
- properly articulated objectives and activities, which follow logically from the development objective, along with expected results
- an implementation strategy, accompanied by a detailed work plan, to be updated annually
- a staffing/resource plan, associated with the work plan
- a management plan, with clearly stated roles and responsibilities for all project partners and principals
- a straightforward description of the governance structure for the project
- Project documents should also include a systematic strategy for impact monitoring and evaluation, with separate budget lines for monitoring and for impact evaluation.
Stakeholder participation must inform impact objectives and design
In general, programs are designed by investors and program implementers.
We’ve found that very few projects involve all stakeholders and partners in decision-making - from preparation through design to implementation and monitoring or evaluation.
One of the principal difficulties for project planners is the proper identification of stakeholders.
Overall, we find that projects have paid insufficient attention to the specification of beneficiaries and to indicating in concrete terms how their situation will improve, directly or indirectly, as a result of the project.
Lack of specificity in beneficiary identification is likely to result in poorly focused projects and incomplete implementation strategies.
Lack of integrated stakeholder consultations don’t solve the problem of building ownership and as such the linkages between investors, implementors, service providers and recipients/beneficiaries remain weak and undeveloped.
Identifying, analysing and prioritising stakeholders will assist to ensure inclusive design, participatory action and collective impact.
This will require that:
- All primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholder groups need to be identified
- Their participation, contribution and expectation of the investment and development process needs to be documented
- An essential element in effective project implementation and measurement is a clear statement of roles and responsibilities concerning project management's development strategies and decision-making.
Inattention to Gender Strategy
With a few exceptions, most social or community investment and development programmes do not address gender issues in implementation. In addition, there are few incentives for staff to deal with the complex issue of the mainstreaming of gender in project design.
Therefore, should gender equality and inclusivity be part of impact intent, a special effort needs to be made to ensure gender participation in program design.
Impact skills and capacity
Overall, we find there is a lack of skilled and capacitated resources, both managerial and technical/professional, in project design and budgeting.
So many assumptions are made in the social investment and development sector. The biggest are that all partners are equally skilled and capable to design, implement and execute socio economic development strategies.
A skills audit of all program partners will go a long way to ensure that all program partners can contribute and participate equally during the program management phase.
Impact baseline data and data on progress
Absence of Baseline Data and Measures of Performance/Progress
For the most part, programmes are designed without inclusion of baseline information, milestones and performance indicators.
Consequently, it’s extremely difficulty to monitor project performance properly.
Given the absence of baseline information, milestones assessing progress over time and substantive performance indicators in project documents, it’s impossible to measure results directly and concretely or assess the impact over time.
Whilst we recommend that baselines be established at the design stage of interventions, collecting data during implementation will create future baselines and comparative data. As such, data on impact (before, during and after implementation) must be collected over time, so that future programmes are better informed and can guarantee impact.
In general, we find that investment portfolios operate independently. Because silos are created, there are virtually no linkages across projects, even in the same field or sector or where projects operate in the same territory/geographic location.
Whether investors focus on education, health, renewable energy or food security, a focused effort should be made to integrate and align programmes.
Leveraging impact and integrating programs can contribute to reduced program costs and increased impact and return on investment.
Program integration should already be considered at the design and planning stages to ensure greater effectiveness and efficiencies from investments and interventions.
In our opinion, there’s an urgent need by investors to devote far greater attention to analysing experience, to learning lessons, and to using these lessons in improving programming.
One of the most important but underestimated features is the ability to draw on experience across investment and development portfolios, across geographies, between implementing partners and between program outcomes and impact.
Assigning knowledge capturing as a specific responsibility to M&E practitioners and professionals will go a long way in ensuring development lessons are captured.
In addition, providing incentives to program partners to capture learning will also ensure greater integration of lessons learnt across portfolios and individual programs.
A culture of learning will also benefit quality control practices.
Having minimum standards for programs and measuring the adherence to standards will contribute to institutional learning and development.
Quality control can be implemented across design and planning, management and measurement phases.
Having a clear development strategies framework will also assist with quality control. This will allow organisations to reflect on core organizational objectives and contribute to their achievement.