In 2016, a mining client based in the Congo approached us to help streamline their socio-economic strategy in order to generate positive impact on the community surrounding their operations. With the mine ballooning, so did the area around the mine, and the needs of the people. They were struggling to focus on the five priority areas they had already identified and had as many as 90 projects running at any given time. Not only was this unsustainable, but monitoring so many projects was near impossible given the rural geographic location.
It was clear: the mine needed to balance the short-term needs of communities and long-term interventions. But how were they to know which projects were strategic and which addressed a specific need in time? The approach: build a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and Impact framework per priority area to understand key success measures and weed out the unsuccessful projects that were draining time, resources and money.
As an organisation our approach has always been evidence-based decision making. Back in 2013, the Sustainability practice at IQbusiness began by conducting Social Return on Investment (SROI) assessments, but we soon realised that the impact derived was only as good as the data that had been collected through M&E. Usually as a result of insufficient evidence, organisations were unable to accurately assess their interventions or inform strategic decisions. They were two arms on one body. And unfortunately, nine times out of ten, the project being analysed was missing one arm.
So we began to deliberate: how do we get our clients and the industry as a whole to see reporting not as the end-goal, but one part of the whole M&E process, and more critically to get them to see that the process was not a compliance mechanism but could be a real tool to strengthen their projects and ultimately their organisation. Evidence-based project decision making expresses a willingness to be accountable, it can help achieve recognition for a project, it can help forecast future models and of course help to inform the design of current and future projects. Done right, the data from M&E and impact measurement practices can create tangible benefits for an organisation. Yes, M&E can be resource-intensive, but if properly integrated into the organisation from the start, it becomes a step in the implementation of the project, rather than an entire process.
But back to our mining client. It was apparent they were trying to climb a mountain but didn’t have the right gear in place from the start, resulting in efforts that took them one step forward but two steps backward. The summit looked even further after years of investments and community engagement. By conducting a SROI on each priority area, the mine was able to use the results to understand the relevance of each priority area, its objective, the current and future short- and long-term impact and use the measures developed to monitor and thereafter evaluate these projects.
After the 5 impact measurement assessments, the mine adjusted their strategy to categorise their projects into those that were strategic for the mine (e.g. Enterprise and Supplier development to build SMEs that would supply the mine), to short-term projects such as infrastructure development of roads, schools etc. Any short-term project that did not generate long-term benefits were tapered off (e.g. Building schools without considering teacher development, thus not generating any improved educational outcomes). As part of the support, we were able to identify where the gaps in the organisation were, where support was required, capacity needed, skills desired to be developed etc., and over time build the team so that M&E was fully immersed.
At the end of it all, generating knowledge, reporting on the knowledge but not executing on the knowledge gained will not move the development sector forward at the speed it should. In order to achieve our goals as organisations tasked with creating change, we need to build our capacity and propensity for making informed decisions and adopting processes for critical review.
Fatimah Wadvallah - Impact Investing and Measurement at IQ Business