DIPD project advisor Bo Karlsen in this essay writes about the monitoring & evaluation approach called ‘Outcome Harvesting’. DIPD has recently started using this method to assess the actual changes resulting from the work to support democracy.
People are sitting in small groups in emotional discussions, posters with post-its are hanging on the walls and from time to time the exercises are interrupted by sessions with dancing and singing from the participants. The latter has not been planned from DIPD’s side, but is a welcomed and fun extra add-on from the participants.
We are in the tiny absolute monarchy of Swaziland in Southern Africa, together with SWADEPA, one of the strongest parties working for multiparty democracy in the country.
My colleague Martin Rosenkilde Pedersen and myself work for DIPD and are invited to Swaziland by the Danish Social Democrats, that support SWADEPA through DIPD. The purpose of our visit is to evaluate the project, through DIPD’s new evaluation approach, Outcome Harvesting.
In Outcome Harvesting you work to make a safe environment for the participants in order to reflect critically about the main changes that the DIPD funded project has made. It is said that evaluation is merely about to “prove” (that the money has been spent according to the agreement) and “improve” (to learn from mistakes and successes from the past). Outcome Harvesting focuses on the latter. With this method DIPD wants to have an alternative to the traditional focus on whether goals have been achieved or not.
So even though the singing and dancing is not planned, it is still giving us a sense that we have created a relaxed and creative environment.
In this exercise all participants start reflecting in small groups about what outcomes – changes – that have happened through the project. Thus, an outcome is not that a number of women have been trained in a certain district, but rather if the group of women changed something politically or if they changed the attitude on a topic in the local community. Every time the group comes up with an Outcome, they write it on a post-it. After the participants have identified all positive or negative outcomes, we start analyzing them. How has the project contributed to the outcome? What factors have been a barrier for this outcome? What factors have worked as a driver for it to fly? How important is the outcome? The participants discuss this in small groups and in quite passionate discussions in plenary.
The workshop reveals how the party through the partnership with the Social Democrats has grown from being a desk in the presidents’ private home in 2012, to a significant player in the democracy movement.
In the current project period SWADEPA has managed to hold the first officially party-led demonstration for multiparty democracy in Swaziland, without the police interfered. This was a test of the newly signed Public Order Act and is seen as a remarkable success in the long journey for democracy.
The final remarkable outcome has been that SWADEPA has played a significant role in making the previously divided political parties of Swaziland joining forces in the Political Party Assembly.
It could be mentioned that even though the method takes point of departure in the “improve”-part of evaluation, the total overview of results still gives a hint as to what extent the money has been well spent – the “prove”-part. Because when weighting the sum of changes deriving from the project, one can still make a rough estimate of whether the project overall has been worth the effort. In this case it has.
When the entire two-day workshop is over, we explain that next day we will meet other people from the party and external partners like the US embassy, in order to hear their take on the outcomes.
Then the SWADEPA president Ian Sithole thanks us and explain that the workshop form has enabled them to reflect on key achievements and challenges of the past few years and it will be a good guiding tool, when the party will soon start discussions about its future strategy. This again goes well in line with the Outcome Harvesting method, where the thorough analysis of the past often leads to discussions about the future strategy.
We thank the participants and prepare to leave – only to be invited to one more dance…