“I never publish anything that hasn’t been through five drafts” is what the celebrated economist Kenneth Galbraith reportedly said when asked the secret of his ability to write so well. Well, I confess this blog doesn’t meet his standard, but I can report that a sixth draft of the Qualitative Impact Protocol (QUIP) for Assessing Rural Transformations can now be downloaded from the ART Project Website. An earlier version was closely scrutinised at a two day workshop in the Self Help Africa office in Shrewsbury in May by participants from SHA, Farm Africa, Evidence for Development, Oxfam, Irish Aid and the University of Malawi. However, the real proof of the pudding is yet to come, with a first round of pilot testing due to take place in Malawi and Ethiopia between now and early 2014.
Meanwhile, it has been interesting and helpful to discuss the niceties of attribution, causality, context and complexity at various other fora. Three stand out:
- the launch of the new IDS/ITAD Centre for Development Impact in Brighton, UK in March;
- the launch of the Participatory Assessment of Development (PADev) guidelines by a consortium of Dutch and West African researchers and NGOs at the University of Leiden in June;
- a joint IDS/UEA workshop on mixed methods research into poverty and vulnerability in London in July.
With the Big Push Forward Conference also having taken place in June there is certainly plenty of effort going into developing new ways of assessing what sorts of development activity work, why and how. This prompts two further thoughts for this blog.
First, I think it may be useful to think further about confirmatory and exploratory aspects of impact assessment. Confirmatory approaches suit activities with a more robust theory of change: i.e. where the main impact pathways can be predicted and measured with more confidence. In contrast, exploratory impact assessment or research is more open-ended, inductive and open to the unexpected. In drafting the QUIP we have also paid particular attention to how more exploratory approaches may be less prone to pro-project bias, by keeping researchers and respondents as blind as possible to prior goals and expectations of the activity being assessed.
Second, for all the strength to be gained from a plurality of approaches to meet diverse needs and contexts, we do also need to guard against excessive duplication, reinvention and proliferation of methods and tools. Hence this update; both to keep you informed about what the ART Project is up to, and to invite comments and indeed collaboration. Is there a case for an action research network on exploratory approaches to assessing impact in development, for example? Comments welcome below!