[This article was originally published in the On Think Tanks 2017 Annual Review.]
The International Agricultural Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) –
an international financial institution – is increasingly attempting to shape
opportunities for inclusion and sustainable rural transformation through its country-level policy engagement efforts.
OTT Consulting is assisting IFAD to develop an online tool that allows it to collect and analyse data about these engagement efforts. The idea is to help them identify innovations and lessons that can inform their activities, thereby enhancing IFAD’s status as a ‘go to’ organisation for policy questions around sustainable rural development. The tool will ultimately provide a better evidence base from which to draw and share its knowledge and experience.
The challenge of monitoring policy engagement
While many people have tried to establish approaches for monitoring and evaluating policy engagement, as we began the project, we felt they fell short (see figure 1). Traditional approaches tend to assume that it is possible to define a clear policy objective and then to map out a pathway to achieve the objective. The pathway may be broken into intermediate steps that are measurable and well defined. It may be monitored to check whether or not the steps are achieved.
But this approach underestimates the inherent messiness in policy engagement processes. What if another organisation comes along that changes everything (for better or for worse)? What if the politics surrounding an issue change rapidly and project activities have unintended effects? Wihtout tracking all of this, evaluators will not get the full picture.
How our system works
When working with IFAD, we embraced the messiness by putting activity and context tracking at the heart of the tool. We also focused on making this information as easy to capture as possible. Users can send information for the database straight from their email, which makes it possible to use a simple smartphone to send information even when internet connectivity is limited. On a semi-regular basis, users are prompted to relate activities to policy objectives and to reflect on whether there have been changes in context. They are also encouraged to think about whether or not their strategy for achieving their objectives remains effective.
Our goal was to empower users at the project-level, and within each of the countries, to learn from their own approaches and change tack when necessary. But we also wanted the policy engagement team back at IFAD headquarters to get a quick overview of the different activities being implemented around the world. With this in mind, our tool focused on developing relevant reports at different levels in order to answer questions like:
- How many publications have been published by IFAD projects this year?
- How many people have attended events with IFAD this month?
- What sort of lessons are people learning that could be shared more widely?
As we roll out the system in 2018, we hope to continue to improve it based on user feedback.