The big questions worth asking on international development

Topics Evidence-based practice | Research and evaluation methods

The question of whether aid and international development makes a difference is never far from peoples’ mind, within and outside the sector, sceptics and supporters alike. This question continues to go without an answer which puts the issue to bed. While demonstrating the impact of projects and programs has improved, evaluate the big, complex picture we are all working in, to understand the big, complex picture we are seeking to influence, has proved elusive.

How then, does the humanitarian and development sector improve, prove and demonstrate our individual and collective impact? ACFID and the RDI Network has come together to help.

Evaluating the ‘big picture’ is especially pertinent as we try to demonstrate progress against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Grand Bargain. This is coupled with the need to offer a response to the growing demands for greater transparency and accountability.

We are reaching for the answers, but are struggling to be clear about the big changes we are making across a complex range of indicators. How to measure against the over 230 indicators articulated in the SDGs is a classic conundrum.

The Australian Council for international Development (ACFID) and the Research for Development Impact (RDI) Network has published research to show how evidence of outcomes and impact can be better captured, integrated and reported on across different scales of work.

That research told us that there were 7 factors to consider when capturing, integrating and reporting on evidence of outcomes and impact across difference scales:

  • Being clear on the purpose and questions and making use of the information
  • Applying fit-for-purpose methods in fit-for purpose ways
  • Adopting methods and approaches that address complexity
  • Considering the needs of all partners, including locally
  • Capturing the distinctive contribution of the NGOs
  • Not being overly complicated, technocratic or exacerbating fragmentation
  • Having adequate resourcing to meet the purpose

To complement the research, ACFID and the RDI Network are hosting a national conversation of experts to deepen the Australian aid sector’s understanding of how to demonstrate outcomes and impact of their work across scales, focusing on learning, evidence and adaptation and how that understanding of impact influences and affects strategic decisions.

The workshop – to be held on 28 August – will focus on understanding the drivers for strategic monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) at scale, including:

  • Demonstrating the collective contribution towards SDG targets and the Grand Bargain across the diverse range of development actors.
  • New innovations and technologies that change the way in which we capture and communicate impact.
  • Different types of development actors and emerging new social movements in developed and developing country contexts.

Speakers from Yarra Valley Water, Blue Bike and La Trobe University and participants from Australian NGOs, research institutions, think tanks, government and the private sector will come together to share promising practices that promote strategic MEL at scale.

ACFID and the RDI Network will be driving follow-up and identifying emergent opportunities for our sector to take up.  To be accountable, to improve and to create the change we are seeking, we need to ensure that we can demonstrate the impact of our individual and collective work and the changes we are supporting. If we don’t, the question of whether we are making a difference will remain perennial and the confidence in our work will be eroded.


This article was originally published on the ACFID blog here.