Blog post: Outcome Harvesting – the next step to assure quality

Written by Paul Kosterink, GPPAC

The current policy framework "Dialogue & Dissent" of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports 25 Alliances of predominantly Dutch NGOs that strengthen the capacities of civil society in the global South. Chief among the goals of this policy framework is to develop CSO capacities in lobbying and advocacy. Yet, the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of results from lobby and advocacy efforts is a well-known challenge in the world of international development cooperation. We operate in complex circumstances and there are many other actors and factors that influence the behaviour of people, organisations, and society. How to best or more accurately capture the results of our engagements and interventions with society actors?

In the Dialogue & Dissent grants, the Alliances and NGOs were free to choose their own M&E frameworks. Now, in the third year of five-year projects it turns out that at least half of the grantees use some form of Outcome Harvesting (OH) in their M&E and learning approaches (see below for a brief description of OH). On 24 April, 20 of the 25 alliances will meet each other in a workshop initiated by the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) and funded by the Knowledge Management Fund (KMF) and Partos. The main goal of the workshop will be to exchange experiences and good practices that can improve or even assure the quality of OH practices. In four parallel discussions the participants will look into key aspects that influence the quality of OH practices. These discussions will lead to the further development of a draft guidance note.

The Knowledge Platform organised a series of five workshops in 2016 with various actors working in the field of security & rule of law to discuss the relevance and practices of adaptive programming. The outgoing recommendations included three "useful and established methodologies for identifying and tracking time-varied results": (1) Theories of change, (2) Outcome harvesting, and (3) Most significant change technique. This KMF project on Outcome Harvesting facilitates bringing knowledge and experiences in practicing of OH together. It will culminate in a publication of good practices to assure the quality of the OH method by practitioners by mid-June 2018, to be shared also with the Platform.

What is Outcome Harvesting?

UNDP considers OH as one of the eleven promising innovations in monitoring and evaluation practice. OH is summarised as "an evaluation approach that does not measure progress towards predetermined outcomes, but rather collects evidence of what has been achieved, and works backward to determine whether and how the project or intervention contributed to the change". It is further elaborated on this web-page of Better Evaluation. Only a few of the 25 Dialogue & Dissent grantees – including GPPAC – have a long-year experience with OH, while most of the NGOs are recent users and relatively new to the OH approach.

OH focuses on the change of an actor – what is it that the actor does that is new, or different from before? Outcomes are defined as changes in the behaviour – such as actions, relationships, policies, practices – of one or more social actors influenced by an intervention. An important notion here is that when describing the outcome we also specify how the intervention contributed to the change(s). Through referring to our own activities and interventions one can make it plausible that we indeed have contributed to the reported change(s).

Outcome Harvesting as M&E tool

GPPAC started harvesting outcomes from 2009 onwards. We experience that when practicing OH as an on-going monitoring and evaluation tool for many years – as opposed to an end-of-project OH evaluation only – we can notice that the impact level of reported outcomes may change over time. When engaging with an actor for the first time in year 1 of a project the outcome description may specify that "it is the first time that actor X expresses to collaborate with GPPAC member Y on issue Z". That may not yet be ‘ground breaking', but when you consistently keep reporting on changes over several years of a project's lifetime , then a pattern of larger changes may emerge, including a ‘trace' of our own contributions to the outcomes over time. It strengthens the credibility of the reported outcomes and how we contributed to the changes.

For our upcoming OH workshop on 24 April, we would welcome explicitly the participation of other experts that are working in the field of Monitoring & Evaluation of social change processes; not only from NGOs and Alliances, but also from research institutions, ministries, and universities. You can find the announcement and link to register on the website of Partos, the co-organiser of the workshop.