‘Those development programs that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programs that are most transformational are the least measurable.’ (Natsios, ex USAID 2010)
Are resource rich funders obsessed with linear planning methods that have measurable interventions? Logical frameworks, showing the trajectory of the proposed project seems to be a prerequisite by most funders.
The logical framework (logframe) forms the methodological basis for the project. The framework is designed in such a way that activities lead ‘logically’ to outputs, outcomes and impact. Six elements are used to evaluate the activities namely relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact, sustainability and contribution. The logical, linear approach forces the project planning team to think about the required steps in order to achieve the outcomes.
A concern with such a well-planned trajectory is that once set, it becomes rigid leaving little space to learn by doing or make adjustments as the projects progresses. And because it is logical and linear, it runs a risk of being overly narrow and focused. In some projects focus and rigidity is good. However in projects that involve multiple stakeholders, focused rigid outcomes runs the risk of reducing the project to simple measurable interventions as opposed to harder to measure sustainable long-term change.
For example community projects with multiple stakeholders are complex with unknown realities and variables. Considerations during the planning phase include multiple stakeholder priorities, diverse cultures, genders, educational backgrounds and experiences. Establishing appropriate indicators prior to commencing the project is difficult. Some factors will change as the project matures and the rigid ‘logical’ framework may be unable to respond to the emerging knowledge. As such logframes could prevent learning from doing and it prevents tapping into innovative local solutions.
Thus Logframes are not feasible for every project. Participatory approaches including sense-making and PDCA cycles are alternatives that funders need to consider as opposed to linear progression. In most participatory approaches monitoring is perceived as a learning process whereas in logical frameworks there is a strict separation between planning and implementation. Participatory approaches engage all stakeholders and allow flexibility. On the downside it costs more, is labour intensive and the outcomes may be less measurable.
In the end the method chosen consider the type of project and the priorities. Participatory approaches work well in complex multi-factor projects requiring change and innovative concepts. Logframes work well for straightforward projects e.g. vaccination campaign.