What’s behind all of the data that Pact collects about its programs? Learning and accountability.
By Alysson Akiko Oakley
Ultimately, all of Pact’s work is aimed at sustainably improving lives in the communities where we work. So much goes into that service: We work to bolster local and national health systems. We build the capacity of local nonprofits with trainings, mentorship, participatory workshops and peer-to-peer exchanges. We convene savings groups to help rural women become economically empowered. And much more.
But how do we know whether any of these approaches really work? How do we know if they are achieving the change we hope for?
Most of the international development sector operates based on what we call “theories of change” — theories for what needs to change in a given system for a problem or an undesirable condition to no longer emerge, whether it be poverty, the unchecked spread of a disease or low civic participation. Some of our theories are explicit while others are implicit. Some are highly evidenced while others are new or operate in contexts so complex that our interventions must constantly adapt.
No matter the case, we are always striving to understand whether our theories are correct, and why or why not. This is where monitoring and evaluation, or M&E, comes in. We gather data on the outcomes of our efforts to reveal whether our activities are yielding the change that communities want and need. Without M&E, we cannot know if our interventions are worth their opportunity costs or the time and effort of program participants. Did our local partner really improve its performance to better deliver on its mission? Does taking part in a Pact savings group really give women the resources they need to earn more income in ways that last?
In short, Pact takes its M&E seriously because it is how we learn and how we hold ourselves accountable to those we serve.
This requires ensuring that our global team has the skills and resources necessary to carry out high-quality, innovative and responsible M&E. To do so, we have an organization-wide Community of Practice that brings together M&E professionals from across Pact to learn from one another; this includes sectors from health to governance to energy. Through our COP, we share methods, measurement results, M&E implementation lessons and best practices, and can connect members from across the world in peer-to-peer exchange.
We also make it a priority to learn from other organizations and share our knowledge with them, in turn. It’s why I’m especially proud of Pact’s strong participation this week in the annual conference of the American Evaluation Association. Pact evaluators from Nigeria, Ukraine, Cambodia, Lesotho and Washington, D.C., are sharing presentations and posters on Pact’s M&E innovations and learning about new approaches to advance our work. Our contribution this year focuses on sharing outcome measurement successes, such as how we measured quality improvement approaches in Nigeria and how we measured the success of civil society organization coalitions in Ukraine. Our contributions also focus on sharing approaches, such as our guidance on how to adapt Outcome Mapping to various program scenarios, and our exploration into using program theory and complexity science to improve adaptive management systems. You may view our poster presentations here, here, here and here.
In turn, we hope to learn about the innovations taken by other evaluators globally. Pact’s AEA participants this year will be sharing their main learnings with the entire organization during an upcoming M&E Community of Practice meeting, so that newly gained knowledge — on new methods, tools and ways of thinking — are institutionalized throughout the organization. We will also be paying particular attention to new approaches that consider inclusive, empowering, feminist and indigenous evaluation practice. As evaluators have struggled to adapt practically to evaluating amid a pandemic, we are also mindful of the larger needs of our society, such as calls to advance equity through our everyday participatory and empowerment M&E practices and how that is operationalized. This year’s conference theme, “How Will You Shine Your Light?” is a challenge to interrogate our role and the role evaluation can play in the advancement of an equitable and just society, which is an ethical principle to which all evaluators subscribe.
As we come together with our M&E colleagues from across international development and the world this week, this principle and our responsibility to the communities we serve is top of mind for me and the rest of Pact’s delegation.
Alysson Akiko Oakley, PhD, is Pact’s results and measurement director.