Measuring the impact of Cord’s projects is vital if we are to understand the changes that are happening and how we can improve them so that they are even more effective. It is also key when demonstrating to donors and supporters the value of investing in our work.
Cord works in challenging and complex contexts where measuring the impact of projects and programmes in traditional ways is not easy. As a result, alongside traditional monitoring and evaluating methods, Cord has adopted the outcome harvesting approach. This enables us to go beyond quantitative metrics and to evaluate qualitative, transformational stories of change.
Outcome harvesting is a monitoring and evaluation approach used to identify, describe, verify and analyse outcomes. Outcome harvesting uses a wider definition of what an outcome is and defines it as “a change in the behaviour, relationships, actions, activities, policies, or practices of an individual, group, community, organisation, or institution”
It is designed to collect evidence of change (the ‘outcomes’) and then work backwards to assess whether or how an organisation, programme or project contributed to that change. This contrasts with the more traditional way of carrying out M&E, which is to start with activities and then attempt to trace changes forward through output, outcome and impact levels.
Why is Outcome harvesting suitable for Cord?
1. Because Cord’s strategy addresses complex changes in complex contexts.
We therefore need effective tools for this environment. Change can often be slow, subtle and at times almost imperceptible. The traditional approach of looking at activities and considering their impact does not work well in these environments.
2. Outcome Harvesting helps us reflect on our Theory of change
The process enables us to regularly consider the interim outcomes identified as part of the localized theory of change. We can decide if they still make sense. Are we seeing these changes or are we seeing other, unexpected changes. We can test if our theory of change remains valid or if it needs to be adjusted
3. Outcome Harvesting helps us to be curious and explore what’s going on around us
This approach takes time as we consider what is happening and gather all the information. By taking the time to be curious, to ask questions and look at what is going on around us, we can develop a much better understanding of the changes that are taking place.
4. Outcome harvesting is a participative approach that involves everyone!
It involves everyone in the team and draws on everyone’s experience. From admin staff to the finance team to the programmes team to the country leadership, everyone has a different perspective. The process is enriched as everyone makes their contribution.
5. Outcome Harvesting helps bring a focus to impact
Focusing on impact enables us to assess the effectiveness of a project or programme. Our learning informs the design of future work. It also enables us to evidence and promote our projects to donors and secure new funding.