Performance by numbers

Jane Carter, 06 April 2015
Performance by numbers

The solitary blog posting in March was due to the fact that I was on holiday. Back now in the office and clearing my inbox, one email that caught particular attention was from our monitoring officer Kristina Bleyer, sharing the collated results of our annual Performance Indicators. Kristina’s task is not an easy one; there is a lot that lies behind these final figures.

Most of our Performance Indicators are people counts – how many women and men we reach through a standardised set of activities at country level, aggregated into a worldwide total. The chosen activities cover each of our working areas. Since 2013, we have introduced the disaggregation of individuals not only by their sex, but also by whether or not they are considered particularly disadvantaged, using country-based definitions (see an earlier posting). As some countries are still working on implementing this, we do not yet have a full data set. In any case, the main intention in this regard is to track country performance in reaching disadvantaged people over time, not to attempt cross-country comparisons.

Not all development organisations seek to measure and communicate their work in terms of the number of individuals reached, so does it really makes sense to do so? Only when, as is the case, it is one part of a whole set of monitoring and evaluation efforts.

Accountability: downward and upward

“Numbers speak” – to donors, and to the wider Swiss public. It is this need for upward accountability that of course drives the number crunching – and these days’ donors are demanding more and more quantified results. This in itself is controversial, as some aspects of development, such as empowerment processes (see a separate posting) do not lend themselves to being counted. However, the Performance Indicators are only very basic output figures; they are not really intended to capture development outcomes. Each of our projects also has its own, detailed monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system, designed to be as locally meaningful as possible – including downward accountability to the project stakeholders – whilst corresponding to the particular requirements of the funder. Then there are external evaluations, impact studies and similar investigations for capturing outcomes in greater depth.

Accuracy: every person counts

The Performance Indicators were designed to be as straight-forward and easy to collect as possible. Our organisational position is that every person counts. Nevertheless, no-one involved is under the illusion that collating the data is a simple task. From project to country office to head office there are many cross-checks; the figures are the best that, collectively, can be produced.

Learning: ensuring emphasis, and doing things better

This is really what made me open the attachment to Kristina’s mail. What is measured gives an organisational message: for example, counting women and men separately (as we have been doing for years) is absolutely essential to give credibility to a gender focus. Many heads got together in 2012 to revise the Performance Indicators, aiming to enhance their use for organisational focus and learning – both at country and thematic level. Whilst several years of consistently collected data will be needed to determine patterns, a few snippets follow.

  • Training in agriculture and related issues is often a classic gender issue: men tend to attend trainings, whilst women then do the work. So it is positive to see that in two of the countries with very high numbers of people thus trained, Nepal and Bangladesh (combined, 207,432 individuals), it was mainly women who received training. In Nepal, 59% of all those trained in agriculture in 2014 were women; in Bangladesh, a massive 90%, due to a specific women focus. By contrast, we need to place greater effort on reaching women in Haiti, where of the 2,304 individuals trained in 2013, only 30% were women. At least in 2014, the figure went up to 35% (out of a total 3,360 people).
  • It would of course be simplistic to equate more women with a better result; obviously this depends both on the indicator and the context. Thus in basic education, gender parity is the aim; in 2014 we came close to this, with 31,469 girls and 33,937 boys successfully completing their basic schooling.
  • Aggregate figures inevitably mask important details. However, for the record, in 2014 the number of individuals reached through our activities adds up to 3’925’850, of whom 1’892’429 were women or girls, and 2’033’421 were men or boys….


Jane Carter

Jane Carter

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