Doing research? Spend more time with programme staff…

From Duncan’s blog covering the paper ‘Using Participatory Process Evaluation to Understand the Dynamics of Change in a Nutrition Education Programme’, by Andrea Cornwall

While it is always interesting to hear about interesting approaches to data collection and analysis – and a lot of this feeds into thoughts/reactions I had while attending (by complete happenstance) the first day of the Doing Development Differently workshop at the Kennedy school, in this blog, I wanted to quickly highlight something that caught my eye in Duncan’s blog

Its this bit in particular:

“What we did next was not to go to the program sites, but spend some more time in the headquarters. We were interested in the perspectives of a variety of people involved with implementation, from the managers to those involved in everyday activities on the ground. And what we sought to understand was not only what the project had achieved, but also what people had thought it might do at the outset and what had surprised them”

The focus on measuring impact on the ground often obscures the focus on understanding how projects are delivered. That’s one of the reasons why researchers have so little in their papers on the context and implementation of the interventions they seem to be studying (which is one of the many good points Heather makes in this blog when she laments the lack of ‘intervention description’). Often implementation staff perspectives are not only considered extraneous to the key research questions, but they are also sometimes actively blocked out so that research findings are not biased: guess only the biases of the researcher get to make it to the final paper/report. Talking to programme staff can not only provide key insights and lessons to implementation, but also elevate their status from being foot soldiers that executed a project logframe to leaders and innovators in their own right, who came up with creative solutions to complex and emergent situations on the ground (or not!).

Look forward to reading the full paper; and more thoughts on the DDD workshop, coming up soon (hopefully).

3 Replies to “Doing research? Spend more time with programme staff…”

  1. A few questions and points:
    (1) Thanks for the shout-out
    (2) Shouldn’t understanding what “people had thought [the program] might do at the outset” be part of the planning, question designing and theory of change / conceptual model building exercise that would precede an evaluation?
    (3) Talking to program staff is definitely important but it shouldn’t be one-off, ideally, or it isn’t much elevated beyond the local knowledge you gained from the wise taxi driver that you talked to on the way in from the airport. And cherry picking one quote from one program staff member that supports the point you already wanted to make and sticking it in a report isn’t so helpful — any more than is providing an outlier statistic as if it were the mean. It seems like the regular (and widespread or at least in some way representative) solicitation of insights from program staff (and M&E staff!) — and then the careful analysis and incorporation of those insights into the overall findings — should be standard practice (unless, of course, program staff also become actual authors on the reports, which would also be good!).


    1. Hey – never meant to imply that any of this should be random anecdotes – observed, heard or overheard…
      Gathering this data is serious business, as you have taught me!


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