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Localization Part 1: Ensuring Readiness of Your Organization for Localizing Data Design, Collection and Use

Localization is a hot topic today amongst philanthropic and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly those engaged in international work or in cross-cultural communities within the U.S. (which, let’s face it, are most communities).  This conversation is happening as the field continues to reflect on the history and evolution of philanthropy, and explore the reasons why large amounts of effort and good intentions are not always enough to resolve the social and environmental issues that we continue to face. “Localization”- the idea that those closest to and most affected by the social issue being addressed have a critical understanding of the context and the solutions needed for that community, and should therefore be in the drivers’ seat on what approaches should be taken and how success should be measured, is one that has been gaining traction.

These articles are not meant to explore the reasons why localization is a good idea (you can read about that in the resources below). But, what I’ve observed working alongside NGOs, foundations, and companies engaged in social impact work is that even once there is buy-in to taking this approach, there is still very limited information about how to successfully implement and transition to it.

In this 3-part series, I will share reflections on several localization approaches TCC Group has tried throughout the phases of evaluation and learning: design, implementation, and disseminating and using learnings. We, like others, are still learning and refining our approach to localization and I look forward to hearing your own challenges and successes here!

Part 1: Localizing the Design of your Evaluation & Learning Framework

“What should I measure? How will I know if our efforts are successful?”- These are the first questions that I often hear organizations asking. But finding the right starting point for designing a measurement framework requires a step back to ask “Do we have consensus on what outcomes we are expecting from our work? Who has been involved in the conversations about expected outcomes? Who has not been involved but should be? Have we accounted for history, values, and context in our expectations?”

Understanding if social impact efforts are successful is very context specific (notably, this is also a principle of being ready to create social change). Several years ago, we worked with Hand in Hand International to develop an evaluation framework that would be relevant to the organization’s overarching mission, but flexible enough for various countries and contexts in which it works. (See here for a description of the approach we used.) In this approach, individual country offices were identifying the outcomes that would signify success in their own context and developing the indicators that would determine whether or not those outcomes had been achieved. They did this with support and coaching from Hand in Hand’s other country offices and their headquarters office, but they were the ones leading the charge to define what success looks like for them.

As we went through the process for different offices, differences emerged in what successful outcomes for Hand in Hand’s work looked like in the various areas of the world in which they work. As each office developed their own theories of change, they gained an understanding of varied approaches, and how success would be measured. For example, under the umbrella of Hand in Hand International’s mission of empowering women entrepreneurs to develop and build their businesses and lift their families out of poverty, Kenya used microloans while Afghanistan utilized enterprise startup kits.

I recently caught up with Dr. Ahmad Kamran Hekmati, Executive Director of Hand in Hand Afghanistan. I wanted to know whether or not that process had helped create an evaluation framework that was relevant for his team’s work, and if he had recommendations for evaluation consultants and funders that want to use a localization approach. Here are the tips that he gave me:

  • Develop a logic model or theory of change as a good base for obtaining consensus amongst team members on the desired outcomes of the work. Even when NGOs are asked to present their desired outcomes to funders or potential funders, there may not have been a structured process to develop those outcomes with the full team that will be involved in working towards them. Having an organized process to map that out helps bring in a range of perspectives from people that have different lenses into both the issue and the solutions.
  • Include co-collaboration of the indicators of success with room for adaptation when working on projects. For Dr. Hekmati’s team, the instances where the data they collected was most relevant were when they had been able to collaborate directly with their funders or other partners to develop a core set of indicators while still allowing for context-specific indicators.
  • Recognize that context is everything. Limitations in understanding context will limit ability to achieve outcomes. Dr. Hekmati talked about how crucial an understanding of the humanitarian situation is in the particular communities where work is taking place. Development projects can’t be implemented and expected to achieve the outcomes of a theory of change when the program participants or community members can’t meet basic needs such as having sufficient food for their families. He noted that incorporating humanitarian assistance into the program – such as through provisional food packages or conditional cash supports – can be an effective stepping stone to stabilizing participants and getting them on the right track to participating in a jobs creation program.
  • Use a theory of change as a launching pad to clarify program activities for staff members engaged directly in community-based work. Hand in Hand Afghanistan has implemented a process of taking the logic model or theory of change for their projects and translating that into a roadmap in the local languages for their field staff. Dr. Hekmati noted that this helps unite team members around the common goals of the project while providing them with clarity on the desired outcomes, the steps to get there, and the expected timelines. It also becomes a communication tool for sharing and getting feedback on the project goals with participants, thus involving everyone in defining what success looks like for their community.

When these steps are included, it helps build ownership by the implementing organization of their theory of change and puts them in the driver’s seat of their own evaluation and learning framework. It doesn’t preclude partnership with funders and other supporters. In fact, it can help strengthen those partnerships.

Funders may also be asking how they can support their NGO partners in further developing their organization’s capacity to design their own evaluation work. A successful example of how funders can work with their NGO partners to identify their own evaluation capacity building needs and then be supportive as they build those capacities can be found in this case study highlighting Johnson & Johnson’s Healthy Future Capacity-Building Initiative.

read localization series part 2 read localization series part 3

To read more about localization visit these links.

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