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Reflections on Measuring Development

Page history last edited by Alexandra Pittman 10 years, 3 months ago


Sue Soal. 2001. “How Do We Know What Difference We are Making? Reflections on Measuring Development in South Africa.” Community Development Resource Association (CDRA)


The article states that South Africa’s development sector lacks a systematic approach to organizational learning that is well-articulated and that integrates theory and practice. The result is that organizations elevate their success stories and hide their weaknesses and failures, which segments and limits the ability to truly learn from program implementation and adapt accordingly. The second problem is a lack of attention to establishing planning and monitoring activities that will contribute to real strategic program learning.  “The notion of planning as a living activity that happens in endlessly repeated cycles and at all levels of the organization (right down to individual daily planning, not to mention “intending” each hour and minute) is generally absent. Because of this, we struggle to adapt plans, to work with fluidity, and to let go of them when they are no longer appropriate” (Soal 2001:2).  Planning is more often than not done as a technical activity— as something that must be completed in order to meet donor requirements, but nothing more. 


Structural factors, which contribute to preserving the status quo include: 

  • The shifting political and social roles of South African NGOs. At first, civil society and NGOS emerged as major players in organizing to end apartheid. Once the country began instating equitable laws, NGOs shifted their focus to education for democracy. Currently, implementation challenges plague NGOs and they are recognizing the need to do better assessments of program implementation and outcomes in relation to broader political realities.
  • The emergence of partnerships. Partnerships are not clearly defined and often favor donors and their agendas and interests over the collective negotiation of interests.  Soal (2001:4) describes: “Attempts at describing the difference “our” work makes often are foiled through a lack of clarity as to precisely who the “our” is. Seldom do we look at the relationship between giver and receiver and what has changed there. In seeking difference, we almost always look outside of ourselves, and seek it only in the “other.”
  • Complex assessment frameworks. Log frameworks inhibit the ability to describe changes in program outcomes due to its unwieldy, complicated nature. Yet, Log Frames are required from aid agencies, thus the motivation for establishing more relevant planning frameworks is lessened.
  • Lack of sustainable funding. Project based and contingent funding makes it difficult to focus on the bigger picture and the program’s contribution to the larger vision of reducing inequality. Moreover, it is easy to get stuck trying to show the outcomes and inputs leaving little room for real stories of change.
  • The rise of outsourcing capacity building and strategic planning. Outsourcing to outsiders for strategic planning and developing in depth monitoring and evaluation plans is common, thus reducing local ownership and opportunities to build capacities. Moreover, external evaluators hold inordinate amounts of power in the relationship, which further reduces the extent to which local NGOS have power over defining their own development approach and strategies. 


Given these challenges, the need moving forward should focus on: 

  • Building strong relationships and partnerships between donor and recipients, between NGOs and stakeholders, and broader organizational networks of support. Spaces of commonality and support should be explored and discussions of real impact be reflected upon collectively. 
  • Building a strong development practice that focuses on developing the narrative behind an organization’s identity, goals, and strategies. One that focuses on how to represent oneself to donors, stakeholders, community, and recipients.  Soal (2001:5) closes by noting: “In the end, we seek development in all of ourselves, and this might well be measured in the extent to which we are able to engage in healthy relationships and make our voices, and stories, heard inside of those.” 


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