Clueless feedback

3.102 - Number (x) of poor women and men with increased incomes

3.102 is a monitoring indicator a funder wants a partner to provide ( in development "partner" usually means "non-participating functionary").  They've given many such measures, each with a code number, each beginning with the phrase “Number(x) of…”. I am running a monitoring workshop with the said partner and we're nonplussed.

The team beautifully explain Outcome Mapping to themselves:- A vision emerging from simultaneous outcomes in a group of boundary partners.

The team beautifully explain Outcome Mapping to themselves:- A vision emerging from simultaneous outcomes in a group of boundary partners.

We've defined moitoring as "systemically collecting information to answer questions to understand where we are, how we got here (and how we might move on)- and communicate that."  Day one of our two day workshop went on defining our questions. Time well spent.  As an outcome mapping NGO we value new behavior attitudes relationships and policies (outcomes) and their downstream effects. A beautiful story emerged of a community's independent decision (the NGO was not directly involved) to limit fishing. We traced the winding pathway that outcome travelled through the NGO's agricultural training, introducing rights based non-violent relationships between men and women, a community discussion about who owns the fish and whose responsibility they are, even an interactive game the team played with the community. We want a monitoring system that picks up and puts together these sorts of stories, that tracks communities as they wind their way along unpredicted pathways to significant change. If emergent outcomes are development we need to systematically gather and understand outcomes, especially unpredicted ones o answer our questions  

More than half the workshop was spent on working out our questions.

More than half the workshop was spent on working out our questions.

Our funder does not see it that way. They've set predefined numbers, all codified, quantifiable, comparable and 'percentageable'. These allow someone in a far away office to quickly verify the NGO is within the template pre-set for them and thus taking the community along the path predefined in a  far-off proposal in a far-off country. Efficient... but for whom?  

Even the criterion- "Number of poor women and men with increased incomes"- is clueless - What feedback does it give? Whether incomes increased because of a skills traning by the NGO or because the national economy happens to be booming after oil was discovered or because the community clear felled the remnant forest on the hill behind their village all women and men with increased incomes will find a place in the numerical answer to output 3.102. Clueless!  Anyway why is increased income more valid than numbers of mothers who stay with their children? In communities this NGO works with trucks pick up women and take them to work in factories leaving their families. Their income is increased but the very fabric of a community is unravelling even as its women are wage laborers making garments for export.  The women themselves  feel controlled by life and their children may end up on drugs or in gangs.  In a context where "increased income" and being "well off" have different meanings the funder opts to bean-count people with increased income. Efficient, but meaningless. Why make a project track itself by criteria unrelated to theirs and the community's questions?. But that's what the funder wants and they have the money… Kya karna (what to do?) 

Kya Karna? We spent two days designing a monitoring system that can capture information that answers the questions we have in the way we need. We came up with a mix of narrative (to tunnel into the depth and meaning of change) and numbers (to track its breadth). Pre-set, codified numerical  criteria do not mesh with our vision of meaningful change. Kya Karna? Alongside our monitoring we'll simply design a questionnaire and get numbers for the funder. They'll never know what we think of their criteria. 

But next year, we want a participatory monitoring system. By then we'll be practiced in our mixed qualitatative/quantitative methods and we'll know what numbers contribute to it- (e.g. how many children enroll in school for the first time might be telling us something meaningful about behavior attitudes, relatiosnhips and policies of parents, families, children, teachers). Hopefully with good communicaton and negotiation we will agree on numbers that are meaningful for us and our funders and with good communication and respect they will find ways to understand and value our stories. We want to become partners. Lets hope.

And lets leave space for communities we work with to evolve and change along their own exciting, unpredictable, undefined, unquantifiable pathways.

Its all about vision- what we see as real change.... and participation. I loved this workshop with a whole team, working outside as waves lapped on a rocky shore behind us.

Its all about vision- what we see as real change.... and participation. I loved this workshop with a whole team, working outside as waves lapped on a rocky shore behind us.

(see the resonance (do I mean dissonance?) between what I am saying here and my post on organic monitoring last year.)