QSA Notes: Evaluations: Essential to understanding the real impact of our projects

Fleur Bayley, QSA Project Manager, Cambodia

Women participating in an evaluation focus group in Pursat, 2021.  SOURCE: DWAP

Evaluations are a crucial feature of QSA’s project management, providing a window into whether, why and how our programs achieve their goals and ensuring our limited resources have the greatest possible impact.

 They pave the way for project improvements, helping inform decisions that maximise success for the most important people, the participants, benefiting the immediate project and future initiatives. Usually conducted at the close of a project, evaluations assess the extent to which project aims were achieved and identify circumstances that led to high and low success levels. They are part of a constant cycle of reflection, introspection, innovation and improvement in development practice.

 While monitoring will measure the efficiency and effectiveness of project activities, evaluations focus more on assessing the impact of those activities on participants. For example, QSA funds a project to empower poor rural women with various activities, including permaculture training. Monitoring by the project partner will tell us if participants retain knowledge after project completion and if they successfully establish home gardens. In addition, QSA monitors the project with regular reporting and in-country visits to check if funds have been used as planned.

 But monitoring won’t tell us if these activities had a medium-long term impact on the participants. We want to know if they changed these women’s lives regarding their economic power/independence, reduced domestic violence, improved family health, increased family decision-making, and even enhanced community participation.

 This is where evaluation comes in, and it’s often qualitative rather than quantitative data that we collect for this purpose.

 As part of its contract with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australian NGO Program, QSA commits to evaluating projects every three years. In addition, as a member of the Australian Council for International Development, QSA is bound by a Code of Conduct, committing to “…quality assessment of their work and to reflect, share and apply the results and lessons of their work with others.” But we mainly conduct evaluations because well-designed evaluations have tangible benefits for QSA and its development partners. Still, more importantly, they ensure our project participants achieve the outcomes they need and deserve.

 Evaluation example: Department of Women’s Affairs, Pursat (DWAP) – empowering women

QSA works with DWAP in Cambodia to enhance women’s economic empowerment and address the impact of climate change through permaculture agriculture. Training and equipment enable poor rural women to establish home gardens for year-round food and water security. In addition, education increases their awareness of human rights, equity and inclusiveness, environment and child protection.

 An evaluation in June 2021 aimed to assess whether the program improved the empowerment of women participating in the DWAP permaculture training program. An independent consultant facilitated focus groups via Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions. These discussions enabled us to gather qualitative data about how participants’ lives had changed since the start of the project concerning decision-making within the family about spending, health, food and nutrition.  They also discussed attitudes toward domestic violence and how their lives had changed since the start of the project.

 Evidence gathered demonstrated that this program significantly impacts women’s lives. They are more confident, have more skills, feel they are contributing and feel more valued. Importantly, children appear to be safer, and people with disabilities are more valued.

 Quotes from focus group participants: 

It changed as after this training, men started to take care of women and the household.  Women are now more involved in decision-making and are braver in terms of their rights.

 I am satisfied with life now as people in my family have the same equal rights, so they all get on better now – expect life to be better and better in the future

Chicken-raising by a participant in the permaculture training in Pursat.  SOURCE: DWAP

QSA is a member of the Australian Council for International Development and is a signatory to the ACFID Code of Conduct. The purpose of QSA is to express in a practical way the concern of Australian Quakers for the building of a more peaceful, equitable, just and compassionate world. To this end QSA works with communities in need to improve their quality of life with projects which are culturally sensitive, as well as being economically and environmentally appropriate and sustainable.

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