31 May 2011

Impact Indicators

Is an intervention worthwhile? What is its impact? Resounding questions, often resulting in hefty debates when answers are being posed. Questions that demarcate real battle grounds, and rightly so.

For me, a world-dweller living in rural Africa, these questions are almost existential, providing the basis or justification of our very presence. And thus they tend to lead to big boosts when agreement about the answer is found, or to stress when answers are being challenged.

Of course, I have got lists with indicators to watch and communicate about. Their relevance are presumably based upon conclusive research, that did prove causality with the higher goals set.

It is actually a daunting process to (have to) accept or (less often) set indicators! To be able to do so well informed, we follow much research on many subjects. I try to assess applicability and relevance of proposed indicators for specific activities to measure our performance on inspiration of people in rural communities to reach their collective and individual potential.

However, I have a lingering feeling of uneasiness about most indicators. Is it because the underlying process of deconstruction feels so foreign to the holistic nature of the rural African reality? Is it because underlying research seems to be done from desks placed in the North, from an expatiate subculture, or in locations conveniently near hotels or airports? Is it because it feels that indicators and goals seem more based upon priorities and supply from the North, then requests from the South? Or is it because they point to outcome only, not to process nor culture?

Progress, or impact, results from a process. They are not a product that can be purchased. A process must being experienced collectively, by all stakeholders involved simultaneously. Processes lead to change - from situation A to situation B. Most indicators are helpful in quantifying each of these situations. However, they do not describe the process, nor impact within specific cultural environment, and thus do not necessarily give indication of local worth, nor value, or impact.

In the rural African setting the process within its specific cultural setting is most important, as it indicates the attainability and sustainability of the outcomes, and possibly replicability. Thus I propose indicators that, for instance, measure welcome of the change by the majority of the community. Indicators depicting if a large number of people has come to support the change within existing cultural realities wholeheartedly, with individual community members displaying explicit comprehension of the change and its benefits, and each testify about having a hand in the change. Such, in my view, provide for real indication of worthwhileness and impact.