Outcome harvesting: a process as important as the result

By Carolina Koldys | January 28, 2020 | Africa & The Middle East | Education, Gender Equity

Outcome harvesting, a participatory methodology in which key stakeholders identify, validate, and make sense of outcomes that they have influenced, has been used extensively by development agencies to assess processes of change where cause and effect linkages are unknown. The supporters of this methodology have largely documented its strengths and benefits in fostering learning, collaboration, and adaptation. But, how did Global Fund for Children find this methodology in assessing the results of a portfolio of grants in Africa?

In partnership with Echidna Giving, GFC has funded a portfolio of 15 partners working to improve educational access and attainment for girls within a wide range of contexts and under various interventions. In this complex scenario, our primary research question was: How did GFC’s support enable partners to advance their work in girls’ education and beyond? In addition, key aspects of our model – flexible funding and trust-based relationships – surfaced as important parameters for the study.

From the onset, we wanted to incorporate into the evaluation process the principles of participation and learning. We were also interested in linking our newly updated capacity development approach into the evaluation process to make partners the center of our actions. We were fortunate to find a consulting firm, Cultural Practice, LLC, that embraced similar principles and was open to accommodating additional learning aspects for GFC and our partners.

Group photo of outcome harvesting workshop participants.
Participants in the outcome harvesting workshop in July 2019. © Global Fund for Children

During a five-day workshop, our partners immersed themselves in discovering what changes happened along their journey with GFC, how and why these changes were important, and what played a role in the achievement of these outcomes. The evaluation team requested the participation of at least two representatives of each organization to help in the validation of outcomes.

Given the significant time and effort our partners dedicated to this workshop, we wanted to learn their opinions about the relevance of the process for their organizations. We collected a series of interviews at different intervals of the process, exploring their feelings and expectations about the outcome harvest. In our partners’ words, here are three things we learned about the process:

1. Learning happened within and among organizations

“The choice of the participants was very significant and unique. We are all dealing with girls’ education – be it enrollment, retention, progressions – they are common themes we’re all working on. There are contrasts from country to country, but it has given me the opportunity to learn about the social-cultural biases that are inhabiting girls’ access to education.”

“I liked the chance for each organization to present what they have and give the other organizations the chance to comment and give more. With that you learn – it’s a learning experience for all the organizations.”

2. Writing good outcome statements can help partners in developing programs and proposals

“I do proposals, and one of the sections in proposals is ‘Describe the outcomes you expect.’ I realized that the way I’ve been describing it may not have been properly. So, now that I’ve gone through this training, I know better how to describe an outcome, and I think my proposals will be better.”

“The reason why this is important is because, when it comes to budgeting or when you’re preparing your programs, you can be that specific, because you know exactly where there’s going to be a change, you know who the social actors who are benefiting from the program are, so you can be able to measure results well.”

3. Partners are interested in replicating the approach to think more systematically about outcomes with communities

“I believe with this outcome harvesting process, when we go and implement it back in our organizations, it’s going to help the community members themselves reflect.”

“They will draw before the project came into the community … then after, they will also draw was has transpired after the project came. Then, they will sit back and say for a moment, ‘You know what? This project came in and it brought this change into our community.’ That way it’s going to help the project to be sustainable.”

Two participants engage in discussion during the outcome harvesting workshop.
A discussion session during the five-day workshop. © Global Fund for Children

In sum, at the end of the outcome harvest, partners were equipped with new skills to better relate their stories of change. They also left with a commitment to improve their monitoring systems and how they collect and use evidence of change.

About the Echidna Giving–Funded Program

Since 2015, Global Fund for Children has supported a group of 15 partners in Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Haiti, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, and Tanzania to advance their work educating adolescent girls through the provision of flexible funding and capacity development support. Although these partners focus on a variety of issues related to adolescent girls’ education, all of them are contributing – sometimes in very innovative ways – to the improvement of girls’ lives by providing services and engaging in advocacy efforts. In the last year of funding, our partners will focus attention on reinforcing key systems and processes to improve their sustainability over time.

Read the Outcome Harvesting Results

Executive summary

Full report

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