We want to make sure the work we are doing is having its intended outcomes of tripling farmer productivity in thriving cocoa communities so that we can do our part to contribute to a long-lasting, positive impact in cocoa communities; that is where monitoring and evaluation becomes an important part of the work we do.
It’s easy to talk about the long term impact that we all want to see in the cocoa sector; many of us can agree that we want to see cocoa flowing from thriving communities where it is sustainably produced in harmony with the natural environment and supports the needs of cocoa farming families. However, this change will take time, and it’s important that we set shorter term targets to learn about our programs as we go.
In the shorter term, we need to make sure we are learning at a pace where we can still influence the initiative in real time. In other words, it won’t help farmers or the industry as a whole make cocoa more sustainable if we only realize critical facts long after the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative has ended. Instead, we need to create the proper monitoring processes that will allow us to learn as we go and to make adjustments throughout the initiative’s life time. In doing so, we can address challenges earlier and implement enhancements sooner.
Monitoring and evaluation, or “M&E,” is an ongoing process and is at the heart of any good program. It starts with program planning, ensuring that the programs are in line with the long-term impact that we seek to achieve in the sector, and that orientation towards that impact permeates at every level of our program, from the activities that we carry out today, to what we expect to see as a result of our interventions. An important part of M&E is mapping out the logic behind how program activities will eventually lead to the long-term, sustainable change that we seek, and ensuring that we are asking ourselves enlightening questions at every stage of our work so that the information that we gather will help us to answer critical questions about our programs.
One of the more humbling aspects of the planning, monitoring and evaluation process is that you realize just how little influence we have over the eventual outcomes of the program. Mars, ICRAF, and our partners can implement the best training programs for farmers possible and orient our efforts to getting critical inputs and planting material available for rehabilitation, but ultimately, it is up to the farmer to choose what to implement. So monitoring in a sense is a process of letting go… of doing our very best to set the program up for long term success.
A good example of this is a story that I recently heard about an HIV/AIDS intervention in Zambia. The government and NGO partners did all that they could to ensure that the population had access to information about safe sex and STDs and access to birth control mechanisms. But it is individuals that will or will not choose to adopt the new practices (outcomes) which will lead to the intended impact, a lower HIV/AIDS rate among communities. Thus it is the same with cocoa farmers… we will provide all of the tools for farmers to adopt the triple productivity package, including state of the art training via local cocoa doctors and the resources to rehabilitate. But it is up to farmers to adopt, and if they do, that is where the transformation happens.
This is the first in a series of posts about our cocoa sustainability M&E work. In future posts, we will take you through the basics of a good evaluation and share some of the results of our baseline study in Cote d’Ivoire. We will also explain a Theory of Change, Results framework, and our key program indicators. Stay tuned for more information on this important part of our work.