Monday, 30 January 2012

Change is hard but not impossible with a little help from ELFs (part 2)

Guest post: We welcome back Elise Wach, Evaluation Consultant at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

To follow on from my post last week on how change is hard to achieve, even when you know an approach isn't working, here's an update on the Learning Retreat that the Impact and Learning Team facilitated for the IRC (International Water and Sanitation Centre) Triple-S Initiative

We kicked off the 2-day retreat by hearing reports back on the variety of learning streams that had taken place so far and assessing progress.  This led into discussions about the approach of the initiative as well as the approach of the evaluation and learning.  Were course corrections needed in order to achieve the desired outcomes of the initiative?  Were adjustments to the evaluation and learning methodologies needed in order to better capture initiative progress?

In terms of the approach of the initiative, one of the primary concerns was related to external communication - getting the right information out to the right people in a timely manner.  IRC’s key staff immediately made commitments to improve this:
  1. Set up an organisational blog to get discussions started and put information out on the web (see Emilie Wilson’s entry about the merits of blogging).  
  2. Post more information and resources on the website, even if not yet polished.  A key phrase throughout the retreat was to ‘not let the perfect be the enemy of the perfectly good’.  Resources and information may take the form of videos, slide decks, and less formal reports.
  3. Improve the layout of the website to make it more user-friendly, and the search engine tags to make it easier to find.
Other commitments were also made to improve the approach of the initiative, including a re-visit to the Theory of Change.  This will surely be discussed in detail at the next Learning Retreat which will go into more depth into the data and its synthesis and also include the advisory group for the initiative (scheduled for the end of April).

See more at  

In terms of the evaluation and learning approaches, a few changes will be made to the timing and scope of data collection and analysis.  For example, given the disconnect between policy and practice discussed in last week’s entry, it was decided that in addition to analysing the policy documents of key agencies and organisations in the water sector, IRC and ILT will also analyse documents that might indicate that shifts in policies are being reflected in practice, such as calls for proposals and project reports.  That information will of course be posted on the Triple-S website in an effort to give these agencies a little extra nudge towards sustainable services that last.  

It was also determined that impact weighting for different outcomes and milestones might prove useful, along the lines of DFID’s revised approach to logframes (PDF) (though Triple-S is looking to move away from a linear/tabular format and towards more mind mapping and video).  

What was interesting to me about the retreat was the fact that none of the data discussed revealed anything incredibly new or surprising to the Triple-S team.  But for some reason, getting a group of people in a room together and setting aside time to specifically discuss progress and obstacles can be extremely effective for getting decisions made…especially if External Learning Facilitators (endearingly referred to as ELFs) are there to help the process along.

IRC has committed to starting their blog in the next week and will soon be posting more resources on their website, including the full report from the Learning Retreat (which will cover much more than I’m able to include here). As for making it easier to find the Triple-S website, you can try to Google it for yourself, but I think they’re still working on this one (unfortunately there’s a clothing company that goes by the same name!), so just in case, the "Water Services that Last" website is here.