How to assure the quality of your outcomes?

When is an outcome of a development intervention credible enough?

When is an outcome of a development intervention credible enough? On the 24th of April, during a learning meeting that was organized by The Spindle in cooperation with GGPAC and the Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law, this was one of the questions that was addressed.

What is outcome harvesting?
Outcome Harvesting collects (“harvests”) evidence of what has changed (“outcomes”) and, then, working backwards, determines whether and how an intervention has contributed to these changes. Outcome Harvesting has proven to be especially useful in complex situations when it is not possible to define concretely most of what an intervention aims to achieve, or even, what specific actions will be taken over a multi-year period.

What kind of recommendations can we formulate to improve the quality of our outcome harvest? What challenges do we still have? Some 60 people, including representatives of most Strategic Partnerships (organisations that are financed by and working together with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs), staff of the MFA and consultants participated in a lively exchange to find answers. A large majority of those present indicated that they are either actively involved in outcome harvesting or planning to start.

What kind of recommendations can we formulate to improve the quality of our outcome harvest?

Experience with outcome harvesting
Wolfgang Richert, outcome harvesting consultant, explained in his presentation important elements contributing to the quality of the outcome. He talked about the difference between ‘quality-with-a-small q’ (i.e. the quality of the final outcome data) and ‘Quality-with-a-big-Q” (i.e. the quality of the different steps in the outcome harvesting-process). Wolfgang is the author of a concept Guidance Note on the quality of outcome harvesting where he explains this issue in more detail. He intends to improve the note on the basis of this afternoon’s session.

What followed were short presentations on behalf of five Strategic Partnerships about their experience with outcome harvesting. Presentations given were by  Karen Biesbrouck (Oxfam Novib), Conny Hoitink (Wetlands International), Gunilla Kuperus (WWF NL), Maya Verlinden  (Milieudefensie), Charlotte Floors (IUCN NL) and Trudi van  Ingen (Tropenbos international).

Each of them focussed one or more of the steps of the outcome harvesting methodology. Subsequently the audience divided itself over four working groups to share lessons,  formulate  recommendations and identify remaining questions. These were then shared during a plenary round up.

Some lessons shared
In the design phase it should be determined: with what purpose do we harvest the outcomes (monitoring, learning or accountability?) and for whom (for own organisations, for partners, for financers?) Is it done as part of annual reporting, a mid-term review or an end-evaluation? It helps you to decide: What outcomes need to be substantiated? Are they credible enough for whom? And do we need external or own substantiators?

If you have more questions on the outcomes of this workshop, contact Anne-Marie Heemskerk via amh@partos.nl.
For the update of the above mentioned concept-Guidance Note, Wolfgang will set up a small editorial team. Let us know if you are interested to join these or other follow up activities (mail to info@thespindle.org). A full report of the meeting will follow mid-May.

 

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