The challenges of systematic impact measurement

Over the last few years, Swisscontact successfully built a comprehensive system to measure project results, which is based on the Results Measurement Standard of The Donor Committee for Enterprise Development (DCED). How do the projects and Swisscontact as an organisation benefit from a global system and what experiences did project teams make in the field? Michael Fink, Head of Monitoring and Results Measurement (MRM) and Wiebe Vos, MRM Advisor Latin America answer the questions.
"Monitoring and results measurement strengthened our positioning among donors and partners"
Michael Fink, Head of Monitoring and Results Measurement
Michael Fink

What is unique about Swisscontact’s monitoring and results measurement system?

The system not only demonstrates our impact to meet reporting and accountability requirements, but it ensures adaptive project management. In other words, the system monitors and measures the progress of the project’s interventions to report results and, above all, to make informed decisions and take corrective actions based on the evidence provided by the MRM system.

What are the main challenges when introducing a new MRM system – on a global level and on the project level?

Michael Fink: Streamlining an MRM system across a diverse set of projects in almost 40 different countries has been challenging and still is. However, we are addressing this through regularly updated MRM Guidelines available in three languages, an internal Community of Practice for colleagues to exchange their knowledge and experiences globally as well as MRM advisors supporting the projects in the field.  

Wiebe Vos: When we started introducing our current Swisscontact MRM System in the field, one of the challenges was to convince all project team members that they should get involved in the functioning of the MRM System. Previously, MRM was regarded as the sole task of an MRM person, but now in order to meet the purpose of adaptive management, all team members need to get involved – in the measurement itself and primarily in analysing results and applying learnings – while being led by the Project Manager. This required a shift in thinking and in ways of working for the teams, which fortunately has become quite normal now for those that experienced reaping the rewards of adaptive management.   

Wiebe Vos

What did you experience when introducing the system in the field, for example in terms of company culture?

Culturally, it is not always easy to change the way people are used to working. For instance, as well-respected technical experts in their field, intervention managers are mostly used to doing a great technical job. They are, however, not used to making more strategic decisions on which intervention strategies result in the highest impact. Nevertheless, when they do get involved, they usually enjoy it a lot and they are even more motivated to succeed in their interventions.

What are the key benefits of a global MRM system for the organisation?

Wiebe Vos: Our MRM system is aligned with international best practices such as the DCED standard and several of our projects have achieved high scores in DCED audits. This strengthened our positioning among donors and partners as a results-oriented implementer that provides credible results. 

What is the concrete benefit of the MRM system for the project?

Wiebe Vos: The concrete benefit for the projects is generating better results and more impact with their project budgets. The idea is to invest in those interventions that have shown evidence to work out well. Most interventions do not work out exactly as you expected them to at the start of the project. Consequently, they almost always have to be adjusted, and in order to be able to adapt well, one has to measure the progress at an early stage. For example, in the Inclusive Markets project in Bolivia, they designed an intervention to promote biological fertilizers for the cultivation of quinoa by smallholder farmers in the Andes. The idea proved to be a win-win situation: the intervention was both good for the environment and good for sales, as biological quinoa is in demand. What they did not take into account in the beginning, however, was that so far, these biological inputs had been sold merely to bigger farming companies rather than smallholders. When they measured the initial results of the intervention, they realised that it was difficult for smallholders to make a profit because of the costs of the biological inputs. On these grounds, they made an important adaptation: together with the suppliers of the biological inputs they designed smaller packages of the product, better adapted to the needs of the smaller-sized farmlands of the smallholders. Now the smallholder farmers are happy that they can combine doing good for the environment with making a profit out of their quinoa cultivation.

Global Results and Impact
To make our processes more efficient and for our own continuous improvement, Swisscontact applies systematic impact measurement. Our uniform results monitoring and measurement in various projects are integral elements of Swisscontact project management and quality assurance.