Building a theory of change and conducting a process evaluation to improve impact
A dairy farmer in North Senegal ©Viola Fur and Lorraine d’Anglejan, IDinsight
For many social enterprises and nimble NGOs, long-term, expensive research projects aren’t agile or flexible enough to meet their real-time needs. IDinsight has been working with a variety of social enterprises to use data-driven research tools to improve their implementation. For instance, we’ve worked with the education provider Rising Academy Network, collecting and analyzing data to identify how school closures affected girls’ enrollment and attendance after lockdowns in three West African countries (full report available here). We also helped Babban Gona, Nigeria’s largest aggregator of smallholder maize farmers, identify how they could improve their program to the benefit of their members.
Most recently, we partnered with la Laiterie du Berger, a mid-sized Senegalese social enterprise in the dairy sector, and its subsidiary organization, Kossam Société pour le Développement de l’Elevage [Kossam], located in the city of Richard Toll in northern Senegal. Over the past two years, we worked together to use a few analytic tools to help them improve the lives of milk producers in the region.
Bagoré Bathily, the CEO and founder of la Laiterie du Berger, is from northern Senegal, a poorer, rural part of the country. A veterinary surgeon by training, Bathily wanted to create an organization that could help his region flourish. In 2005, he developed a holistic intervention with the aim of reducing poverty, focusing on both economic development and also social issues such as school attendance rates and women’s empowerment.
Bathily knew that dairy farming was central to life in northern Senegal, especially for the region’s ethnically Fula people who have traditionally been semi-nomadic. The milk they produced, which was only available at local markets, was often left unsold. At the same time, most milk available in Senegal’s larger cities was imported in powder form.1 Bagoré saw an opportunity to create steady incomes for thousands of dairy farmers and their families.
The social enterprise la Laiterie du Berger [LdB] was created in 2006, with early support from the impact investment fund I&P. LdB purchases milk locally, transforming it into dairy products, which are then sold across the country. In 2019, Kossam – ‘milk’ in Fula – was created jointly by LdB and the Milk Cooperative of Dagana to help dairy farmers organize and make changes on issues important to them.
LdB is interested in ensuring that dairy farmers transition to being milk production professionals. They wanted to learn from the experiences of other organizations working in similar contexts to better structure their program. We took a three-pronged approach:
We began our engagement with LdB by defining a high-level Learning Agenda. We saw an opportunity to answer some of Kossam’s main questions by reviewing the literature on poverty reduction. When reviewing the academic literature on approaches to poverty reduction, we saw parallels between Kossam’s operational model and the graduation approach.2 Pioneered by BRAC and first implemented in Bangladesh, this approach utilizes a five-pronged, holistic approach to poverty alleviation, “support[ing] people to lift themselves out of extreme poverty”. The approach has since been successful in dozens of countries.3
While the graduation approach has traditionally been used by NGOs and governments working in communities affected by extreme poverty,4 we decided to try situating Kossam’s activities in this framework, recommending additional activities based on the components of the model and highlighting avenues for further improvement.
We began by conducting a literature review to identify key traits of the approach that could be helpful to Kossam. The first component of the graduation approach is targeting.5 In Kossam’s case, certain high-performing dairy farmers receive a transfer of funds and goods aimed at stabilization in a program called ‘Mini Farms’. In line with the coaching component,6 Kossam offers training programs and counseling to dairy farmers. The activities carried out by the Milk Cooperative of Dagana – such as organizing meetings to tackle issues important to the community – reflect the community mobilization component7 of the graduation approach. The final two dimensions of the graduation approach suggest that Kossam could consider developing its activities around encouraging savings8 and supporting access to healthcare services.9 The literature review, therefore, allowed us to frame Kossam’s work within a theoretical approach, thanks to which Kossam could identify additional activities to undertake, complementing their pre-existing ones aimed at improving dairy farmers’ lives.
We then co-created a theory of change that, in line with Kossam’s approach, was ambitious in the outcomes targeted. These outcomes included empowering and improving profits for dairy farmers – including female farmers – as well as their increased financial inclusion. This exercise mapped Kossam’s activities onto the outcomes they aimed to reach and identified key assumptions underpinning those outcomes, thereby providing an analytical framework for their programs.
In late 2021, we carried out a Process Evaluation, including three weeks of in-person data collection, to study whether Kossam’s activities were indeed bringing about the intended changes in the community. Process Evaluations look at what happens during and after program implementation in comparison to the expectations described in the ToC. This means they yield quick results as to what within a program is or isn’t working at a low cost, and shows implementers how they can further improve the program.
We found that Kossam has targeted high-performing dairy farmers, especially younger ones and women, with the Mini Farm program. This has contributed to the emergence of successful, ‘model’ dairy farmers within the community. Kossam has also implemented a new training program for young women to increase their participation in dairy farming.
Based on the theory of change, we could identify which targeted outcomes Kossam had made more progress towards – such as participants’ higher profits from milk production – and which were not quite delivering as expected. We found that the program did increase women’s financial inclusion via the use of mobile money, but did not necessarily increase their power over household finances. Similarly, Kossam aims to achieve higher school attendance rates according to its theory of change via a decline in transhumance – the practice of seasonally migrating with livestock. We found that this decline in transhumance is necessary but not sufficient for increases in school attendance rates.
The comparison with an approach well-known to researchers – in this case the graduation approach – and leveraging the theory of change in a Process Evaluation are just some examples of how various analytical tools can be used to support an organization’s impact goals. In particular, we suspect that theories of change and literature reviews can be cost-effective for most social enterprises, including smaller-scale ones such as Kossam. Thanks to our work, Kossam is now considering partnering with organizations that specialize in community-led social norms change. In particular, such organizations could provide support on gender-related issues, as the Process Evaluation identified this as an area for further improvement.
This reinforces IDinsight’s vision that tools such as data analytics, user-centered design work, monitoring support or even methods from our beneficiary preferences work could all be useful to social enterprises. As we see the concrete value these tools brought to Kossam, turning high-level concepts into action, we are eager to bring about such collaborations with other like-minded social enterprises.
Do you want to find out more about how IDinsight’s research toolkit could help support your social enterprise? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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