This blog series describes a core group of ‘good practices’ that Pact implemented in the Horn of Africa. The European Union Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF)-funded Regional Approaches for Sustainable Conflict Management and Integration (RASMI) and Selam Ekisil (SEEK) projects sought to prevent and mitigate the impact of local conflicts in selected areas of the Kenya-Ethiopia-Somalia cross-border region through the promotion of peacebuilding, conflict management, and conflict resolution capacities at the community and cross-border levels.
Over the course of three years, implementers advanced programs with objectives to: improve social capital and cohesion among project beneficiaries; strengthen peace and security structures; and influence development actors to be more conflict sensitive. The motivation behind these approaches was to design programs that were more targeted and able to achieve better results. Pact also carefully consulted stakeholders within these practices to verify and refine project teams’ strategies. It is Pact’s hope that other members of the community of practice can apply, leverage and learn from these good practices.
Outcome Mapping (OM) is a participatory monitoring and evaluation methodology in which project teams actively engage change agents (referred to as “Boundary Partners”) from the project’s outset in the design and implementation of a learning-oriented strategic plan that enables change agents to identify and act on their own criteria of success. OM enables project teams to not only examine outcomes of interest using adaptable tracking approaches, but to understand the processes and incremental changes that need to happen to lead to those outcomes. OM is particularly useful in highly dynamic conflict settings because it is more flexible than traditional logical framework approaches.
Outcoming Mapping in Practice
Together with the formative Applied Political Economy Analyses (APEAs) and the Conflict Systems Approach, OM enabled SEEK and RASMI to embrace the complexity of the cross-border operating environment and design interventions based on community experiences. OM helps projects account for the contribution of the local system to observed changes and to capture anticipated and unanticipated changes that affect progress toward the change they hope to advance.
The project APEAs identified drivers and main actors associated with cross-border conflicts. With this information, SEEK and RASMI consortium partners identified individuals or groups who were (or could be) working as key change agents across the target communities in the conflict systems, including youth leaders, women leaders, religious leaders, peace committee members, and local government and traditional authorities. These change agents became the RASMI and SEEK “Boundary Partners,” and the projects began engaging them in 2018. OM enabled the projects to monitor and document the specific behavior changes that Boundary Partners identified as being critical for preventing local conflict and mitigating its impact.
To support Boundary Partners in preventing and mitigating conflict and countering violent extremism, RASMI and SEEK project teams first analyzed these change agents’ baseline strengths and capacity support needs. Next, the projects worked with each Boundary Partner group to develop an outcome vision statement (“outcome challenge”) that articulated what they believed were ideal behaviors, as well as “graduated progress markers” that would indicate to them and to the project whether and what incremental change was occurring over time. Project staff grouped the progress markers into three sets of changes: expect to see (immediate), like to see (medium term), and love to see (long term). The progress markers were then packaged into “Outcome Journals.” In contrast to logical frameworks that require projects to report on predetermined and fixed changes, Outcome Journals support reflection on unanticipated changes. Boundary Partners updated their Outcome Journals approximately every six months, reflecting on what, if any, actor-level change had occurred, and if this had led to any changes in social cohesion, peacebuilding capacity, or conflict sensitivity.
OM facilitated continued engagement and open, transparent relationship building between Boundary Partners and project staff over the course of two years. The OM process created a culture of trust and reliable communication between the project and local stakeholders, which proved instrumental in continuing programming safely as the COVID-19 pandemic began. In addition to increasingly interfacing with project staff, Boundary Partners benefitted from regular cross-border communication, reflection, and planning with one another; Outcome Journals revealed that youth leaders in multiple conflict systems reported an improvement in their relationships with neighboring communities as compared to before the projects began. These youth leaders also reported that they are better networked and better able to build shared visions for the future.
OM also afforded Boundary Partners greater flexibility and decision-making authority to articulate customized progress markers and incorporate additional activities into existing project platforms in order to most comprehensively respond to community needs. For example, Boundary Partners used community peace structures and forums to disseminate COVID-19 awareness campaigns and educate community members about hygiene and sanitation to prevent the spread of the virus. Boundary Partners also created specific peacebuilding messaging that sought to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 protocols such as border closures and restrictions of movement threatening cross-border community cohesion and straining motivations to share resources like water and farmland. These integrated activities continued so sustainably that other implementing NGO partners asked SEEK and RASMI Boundary Partners to contribute to additional donor-funded activities as the pandemic continued.
Beyond facilitating trust-based communication and strategic adaptation, OM’s inherent focus on community engagement enabled BPs to articulate and design criteria of success in achieving outcomes in their communities, track their own progress, and critically self-reflect by embracing evaluative thinking. Thus, their participation and influence continued throughout the entire lifecycle of both SEEK and RASMI projects: Community members envisioned what they wanted for their own communities, developed processes for bringing about those changes, and remained involved in project activities to participate and witness progress toward the visions they created.
As opposed to a traditional LogFrame approach where activities are aligned with previously- approved project outcomes, the use of Outcome Mapping enabled SEEK and RASMI implementing teams to engage cohorts of community members directly in the determination of desired results, the identification of results pathways for programmatic strategies, and overall monitoring and evaluation processes. The OM methodology is replicable in other contexts and can be most effective in situations where funders and implementers agree to prioritize flexible, participatory, and community-led MEL processes that allow for capturing emergent changes and progress toward results. The methodology is most applicable in complex projects where change is defined in terms of behaviors, actions and relationships. To effectively deploy an OM approach, project teams should plan to engage with identified Boundary Partners in a range of forums and activities including workshops, reflection sessions, and the completion of Outcome Journals.
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– Gedion Juma is a Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at Pact based in Nairobi, Kenya.
– Caroline Brazill is a Governance Officer at Pact based in Washington, DC.