OneVillage Partners has a unique, participatory approach to development work, which deserves unique and participatory monitoring and evaluation. The Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) team at OneVillage Partners uses a distinctive approach to evaluate programs by encouraging community members to fully participate in program evaluations. OneVillage Partners does these assessments in order to know the strengths of our programs and also ascertain areas of improvement. At the beginning of 2019, the MEL team, in collaboration with the Community Action (ACT) and Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) teams, developed a new tool for assessing programs: the Learning Focus Group Discussions. The Focus Group Discussions aimed to directly ask program participants and general community members to provide feedback about OneVillage Partners’ programs. Specifically, ACT focus groups responded to questions related to project implementation, community relationships, and training. The NOW focus groups involved questions asking participants what challenges they faced with understanding the curriculum. We also engaged male relatives of participants to understand their view of the program.
The pilot round of the Learning Focus Groups Discussions produced many findings of interest to OneVillage Partners, which will help us improve our programs and make them more effective for our participants. For the NOW program, respondents highlighted certain components of the curriculum where they needed additional support. Upon learning this feedback, the NOW facilitators reassessed how they can change these components to more effectively train participants on financial and business skills. For the ACT program, respondents provided critical feedback on the complex relationship between community members, local leaders, the Community Action Group (a group of community volunteers trained by OneVillage Partners that design, implement, and monitor community projects) and OneVillage Partners staff. Additionally, some valuable feedback was provided on the logistics of both programs. Direct feedback from the program participants informs and improves our programs, giving deeper meaning to “community-led.” We value this disciplined approach that allows us to
measure our impact and adapt our methods accordingly.
The team also used the focus groups as an opportunity to garner input about how we currently solicit feedback from communities during project implementation. In essence, we asked for feedback on how we are currently asking for feedback. Presently, community members and participants provide feedback to the OneVillage Partners coordinator assigned to that community. This works, but we wanted to find other ways to discourse directly with the communities and create more channels for feedback.
However, as with any pilot, the team did encounter some challenges with the FGDs. Many times, when the team asked how OneVillage Partners could improve programs, respondents listed additional investments they wanted the organization to make (i.e. infrastructure, financial support, etc.). Moving forward, the MEL and program teams should critically think about how to better phrase these questions so respondents are focused on how the current model can be improved, rather than provide suggestions about future investments.
Overall, the Learning Focus Group Discussions not only yielded information that will improve our programs, but they ultimately strengthened the relationship between OneVillage Partners and communities. The findings were shared with the ACT and NOW teams, and they are already thinking about how to incorporate the feedback into programs and planning additional questions to ask in the next round of focus groups.