Final Evaluation of Local Community Development Project in the Gambia
Background - for the evaluationThe Local Community Development Project in the Gambia was phased out in 2004. By July 1st all activities were completed and FORUT Norway had finalised all formal obligations to all activities and staff of FORUT Gambia. The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) is FORUTs main donor in the Local Community Development project and its requirement is that an external evaluation should be conducted to secure lessons learned. - for the projectFORUT-Gambia's main operational area has been in the North Bank Division (NBD) of The Gambia that lies on the northwest bordering Senegal to the north and River Gambia on the south. The current population of the NBD is estimated at 211, 000 (Housing Census projected figure for 2003).The NBD is ranked as the least developed division of the country. The 2000 National Human Development Report (NHDR) has placed life expectancy at birth to 43.3 years. Infant mortality rate as at 1993 was at 85 per 1000 and an adult literacy rate of 15%. The combined educational enrolment ratio of the NBD is 37%.Groundnuts cultivation is the main source of income of the area. An increase in population coupled with traditional cultivation methods for groundnuts have in the last 20-30 years contributed to deforestation, and made cultivated land more exposed to drought and lowered the water table. The low water table has made it more expensive and difficult to get access to safe and reliable water sources for people in the villages. Food scarcity is a chronic problem. Until the construction of the Farafenni main hospital recently, this Division had no major health centers leaving the people to suffer from preventable health diseases. Malaria continues to be the number one killer disease especially for the children under five years of age. Purpose/objective - for the evaluationThe main purpose of this evaluation is to provide lessons learnt; to document and analyse the experience of FORUT-Gambia and the partner communities to bring out critical lessons learnt for wider organisational learning in FORUT Norway to inform its development approach, methodology, capacity and competence. - for the projectFORUT-Gambia has organized its programming activities around the following: Environmental and Natural Resources Management, Local resource mobilization, Health and Sanitation, Local Institutional Capacity building, Support to IOGT-Gambia. These programmes have been designed to address the poverty in the communities in this region with special focus on the rapidly degrading environment. In view of the level of poverty in these communities, these programmes have been found to be very relevant in addressing the poor conditions of life in the communities. Methodology An external evaluation team was established under the leadership of Ousman Cham, Regional Representative West Africa for Christian Children's Fund. The evaluation was participatory and involved the staff, the communities and other partners. The evaluation had a twofold approach, involving literature review and field work. The literature review took the form of studying files that include reports, FORUT Norway's Policy Document, strategic plans, mission statement, trek reports, annual budgets (variance reports), review reports and management meeting reports. Field work was done using participatory tools that informally encouraged dialogue between the evaluators and the partner communities. This made the people to narrate their success stories. A simple framework of "what went well", "what did not go well" and "what could have been done differently for greater impact" was part of the evaluation tools. Testimonies of people were documented as the basis of the changes experienced according to the perspective of the partner communities. A sample of 13 partner communities out of the 24 partner villages was visited as part of the fieldwork. A sample of former FORUT Gambia staff members was interviewed to document and analyse staff perspective. Visits to NGOs and Government departments in the North Bank Division were carried out to document and analyse the working relationship they had with FORUT Gambia. Key findings • FORUT Gambia has had impressive achievements in building the capacity of local people to actively participate in the implementation and management of the programmes. The most outstanding achievement made by FORUT-Gambia has been the support for the establishment and management of Village Savings and Credit Associations (VISACAs) with the objective of increasing income levels of communities to improve their standard of living. This project has been the most successful. The participation of women has been very high and remarkable. This undoubtedly contributed towards the promotion of the agency of women by strengthening their confidence and know-how to be more assertive as leaders in communities where traditionally the males have dominant roles.• One of the limiting factors for registering greater impact had to do with the wide geographical coverage that resulted to overstretching FORUT Gambia both in terms of personnel and financial resources. Some of the programmes were either small in scope or lacked the necessary technical support for them to make any meaningful positive impact in some of the communities. Little evidence on the ground to indicate that the projects supported were integrated. In communities where there were more than one project being supported, the linkages between those projects and how they could contribute to improving the general well-being of the community were not well understood by the people.• There had been close collaboration with and hiring of the services of personnel of existing Government line departments with which Memoranda of Understanding were signed. This helped FORUT Gambia to be able to link up its activities with the Government's development policy priority areas in the region.• The number of trained, qualified and experienced staff did not correspond with the complex management required for an evolving organisation such as FORUT Gambia. Among the staff there were more "Doers" than "Thinkers"• The challenge that faced FORUT Gambia and FORUT Norway with regard to the localisation strategy was the inadequate understanding of the modalities of this strategy, especially by FORUT-Gambia.• FORUT-Norway had provided remarkable support to the organization both financially and technically. FORUT-Norway up to 2004 has been the sole funder of FORUT-Gambia providing guaranteed funding for both administrative and programme activities.• The strained relationship between FORUT Gambia and IOGT had resulted to a total halt of IOGT activities in the Kerewan area.• There were few projects designed deliberately to target children apart from a nursery school in Dobo and the training of school children in nursery management (tree planting). Recommendations • FORUT Norway considers the development of a phase-out strategy that is gradual in nature and less painful for both the affected partner organization and communities. Though it was clear that the abrupt decision to stop funding for FORUT Gambia was never the intention of FORUT Norway (as this was NORAD imposition), the need to prepare the minds of partner organization for such eventualities will always be a reality.• FORUT Norway should continue to encourage and promote women and children's active participation as agents of change.• The strategy for the localisation of a partner organisation must be defined and understood by both parties in terms of their respective roles and responsibilities. This must be accompanied with solid plans, which include training for the development of appropriate systems and strategies for the proper management of the transition.• The creation of space by FORUT Norway for FORUT Gambia to make decisions to determine programme choices and the area of operation must be balanced with appropriate technical input from FORUT Norway as a stakeholder in the whole process, and also with a demand for transparency, responsibility and accountability from the recipient organisations.• FORUT Norway should always insist that the partner organisation should hire the right competencies at all levels of the organisation. FORUT Norway from the start of its partnership should encourage partner organisations to develop the appropriate skills and knowledge to access diversified funding sources.• FORUT Norway as a global force, for making positive difference in the lives of the poor, should ensure that the global Policy Document that defines its partnership relationship with partner organizations is properly understood by the leadership and staff of these organisations. The implementation of such a policy document should be contextualized by the partner organizations and should serve FORUT-Norway as a frame to support and assess the overall performance of its partner organizations.• That FORUT Norway considers the possibility of encouraging their partner organisations to form local Advisory Boards with strong local perspectives and competences to provide necessary support and guidance for quality program implementation on the ground.• That FORUT Norway considers the use of external auditors with broader terms of reference (covering financial and programming issues) on periodic basis to supplement the findings of locally registered auditors used annually by partner organisations. Comments from the organisation NORAD has in correspondence and discussions been concerned with reducing FORUT's activities in West-Africa, since this has been a non-prioritised region for Norwegian development assistance. NORAD has instead suggested that FORUT could look at opportunities for initiating programmes in southern or eastern Africa. The outcome of the discussions was that FORUT accepted to downscale and phase out in Gambia (completed) and in Senegal (ongoing). On the other hand, NORAD approved an increased FORUT involvement in Sierra Leone - the poorest country in the world, facing a daunting post-conflict recovery challenge. Also in line with NORAD's suggestion, FORUT has looked at options for extending our ADD-programme to countries in southern or eastern Africa. FORUT had initially planned for a more gradual phase out of FORUT Gambia, including financial support to a localised organisation for two - three years, and a supportive role for the localised organisation in its process to become autonomous. Unfortunately, this was not possible to achieve. Lessons learnt from this evaluation have already been put to some use with a decision to make the ongoing localisation process of FORUT Senegal more gradual in terms of time and funds. The strategy for the localisation of FORUT Senegal from branch organisation to a partner organisation has been discussed, defined and understood by both parties in terms of their respective roles and responsibilities. It will be accompanied with plans which include training for the development of appropriate systems and strategies for the proper management of the transition. We have found the analysis and recommendations in this evaluation both useful and interesting, and will take on board several suggestions presented here.