Here’s a great story that shows why people are not like watermelons (see picture): they won’t grow in square boxes.
It’s a perfect example of the pitfalls of logframes. In this case, the logframe created the wrong incentives for field managers. They didn’t pay enough attention to what other people were doing. So although the team completed all their activities, they didn’t achieve their goals.
Roberto attached this summary logframe to a “very ambitious” food security project he’d been involved in, and wrote:
“The logical framework (logframe) is pretty good: the logic is clear and coherent and the indicators are very specific. There is no confusion in my mind when I analyze the cause-effect relationships: with more and better inputs, training and infrastructure, farmers will be able to get more food for consumption and even sell some of the surplus.
The timeframe is tight though (2 years) and it takes a huge effort to achieve all the outputs indicated in the logframe: production, productivity, number of hectares, number of trainings, etc. The project team dove headfirst in the implementation dedicating 100% of its attention to the activities.
When the mid-term monitoring mission arrived, it represented the first opportunity for the project managers to analyze the situation from an outside perspective.
What they saw wasn’t encouraging: in their frantic effort to keep up with their ambitious design, they had forgotten about the other actors working in the area and had promoted only a limited involvement of local institutions. Besides, the government had decided to buy all the corn harvest at artificially high prices, killing private markets.
The result was that the outputs had been produced, but very few people were using them, the impact of the intervention was very small and there were very slim chances of achieving sustainability. The different stakeholders hadn’t modified their behavior and the relationships between them had not changed since the inception of the project:
- Beneficiaries’ organizations were brand new and mainly composed of illiterate farmers, living in remote areas. They had received trainings, but remained institutionally weak and had very limited technical capacity.
- Local development organizations showed very little appropriation of the intervention. They were getting paid to perform a task. Period.
- Local government officials were satisfied to receive reports every semester and take credit for the distribution of tools.
A combination of results- and actor-based approaches would have contributed to a more balanced intervention, where productivity is linked to a change in behavior and relationship among stakeholders.
Adopting an actors-based approach, the NGO would have set achievable goals for the groups of beneficiaries and promoted a bigger role for local institutions in order to enlist them as committed actors in the process of achieving food security in the area. The disappearance of private marketing channels would have been less of a problem because stronger institutions, coordinating between them, could have diversified production and pursued other opportunities.”
This all sounds depressingly believable and familiar to me.
As NGOs, we urgently need other approaches to planning and monitoring our work, which focus on the people involved in development and how much value we are adding to their efforts to improve their own – and other peoples’ – lives.