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Community Contribution

Sustaining Development: Results from an Ex-Post Evaluation Among Food for Peace Development Food Assistance Projects

Aug 05, 2015
Leah Wyatt
USAID's Office of Food for Peace (FFP), Local Systems Community, and the Evaluation Interest Group (EIG) hosted a presentation of key findings and recommendations from the FFP Sustainability and Exit Strategies Study on July 23, 2015. The ex-post study investigated effectiveness of programmatic approaches that ensure sustainability of FFP project activities and benefits of assistance once it is withdrawn and the project ends. Beatrice Lorge Roberts and Jennifer Coates from Tufts University presented results. A link to the PPT slides is here. This multi-year, multi-country, ex-post study (undertaken by Tufts University through the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project) used quantitative and qualitative methods over the course of 3 years to explore the effectiveness of FFP development food assistance projects' sustainability plans and exit strategies in Bolivia, Honduras, India, and Kenya. The study used activities' baseline and endline reports; qualitative data collected in 2009, 2010, and 2011; and quantitative survey data in 2011, which used the same survey instruments as endline surveys and coincided with the same season of endline data collection. Investigators selected programs according to specific criteria: key food security and nutrition outcomes achieved; exit strategies implemented; and close-out coincided with the study time-frame. The presentation highlighted lessons and promising practices for withdrawing assistance while increasing the potential for sustainability of project benefits. Key Findings:
  • Evidence of project success at time of exit does not necessarily imply sustained benefit over time.
  • Motivation, capacity (both technical and managerial), and resources are critical factors in achieving sustainability. Linkages, a fourth factor, are often important.  
  • Linkages are more successful when their purpose and role are explicit and when the linkage partner has motivation, capacity, and resources.
  • The quality of inputs and infrastructure created during the project contributes to sustainability.
  • Fee-for-service and profit models can be effective mechanisms for generating sustained resources. However, approaches must be introduced early; solid business acumen is required; and effective demand is required, but not equally feasible in every context.
  • Ensuring "expansion" can be more challenging than ensuring persistence of benefits among project participants.
  • A gradual transition from project support to independent operation is important for sustainability.
  • Providing free resources can threaten sustainability, especially if suddenly cut off.
  • Carefully ground truth your assumptions (such as community workers will work for free if the services are appreciated) necessary to sustain interventions.
  • Context and conditions external to the project affect success and sustainability.
Conceptual Framework - Sustainability Pathways Horizontal linkages represent relationships created among communities, groups, or individuals for support. Vertical linkages are formal or informal relationships between individuals or communities and the government, NGO, or other entities to provide support.   Recommendations:  
  • Sustainability plans should be operationalized through a sustainability implementation pathway as part of project design.
  • The critical factors for sustainability should be incorporated into all project sustainability plans and exit strategies, which should be evaluated on this basis.
  • Sustainability plans and exit strategies should contain clear timelines and benchmarks of progress toward sustainability, separate from indicators of impact.
  • FFP should establish and enforce a system of archiving all baseline and evaluation reports, along with making original data documented and accessible.
  • Projects should be designed with local conditions (economic, political, and social/cultural) in mind and should take account of the need for resilience.
  • Project exit should be gradual, with a phased transfer of responsibility to the appropriate stakeholders.
  • FFP should consider longer project cycles to accommodate sustainability considerations, with different evaluation criteria at different stages.
  • FFP should consider adding sustainability to its assessment of projects under consideration for funding.
  • FFP should consider selecting a subset of projects for periodic assessment over a period of as long as 5 or 10 years after exit to track the evolution of activities, their benefits, and their persistence.
The FFP Sustainability and Exit Strategies Study report has not yet been released. Its scheduled release is Fall 2015. POC: Joan Whalen (USAID/DCHA/FFP/PTD).  We're interested in hearing from you! What other ex-post evaluation studies have you had experience with? Are you planning to conduct any ex-post evaluations in the future? How are you measuring sustainability in your project and programs? Share your experience in the comments section below! CLA in Action articles are intended to paint a more detailed picture of what collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) looks like in practice. Unlike other disciplines, CLA is not a technical "fix;" it looks different in different contexts. This series will showcase examples of intentional collaboration, systematic learning, and resourced adaptation, some of which you may find applicable to your own work. The case studies, blogs, and resources represented in this series document the real-world experiences of development practitioners experimenting with these approaches for the benefit of sharing what's possible.