Lessons from the Technical Resource Centre: trust, working alongside each other and early collaboration
In the target year of the Millennium Development Goals and as the Sustainable Development Goals are formulated, all countries need to strengthen capacity in high quality measurement and evaluation of implementation efforts in order to base health decisions on robust evidence.
IDEAS (Informed Decisions for Actions) is a project based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine which aims to help understand what works, how and why in improving maternal and newborn health at scale, and inform future funding decisions for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Lessons learned: capacity strengthening through a Technical Resource Centre
IDEAS works with foundation-funded implementation projects in Ethiopia, Northeast Nigeria and Uttar Pradesh, India, to strengthen capacity in measurement, learning and evaluation through a Technical Resource Centre.
Krystyna Makowiecka, the IDEAS Technical Resource Centre lead, shares lessons from these experiences:
Technical support should be built in at the project proposal stage
IDEAS started when most projects were well-established and had their own measurement, learning and evaluation systems. Many of them were robust, but not all.
“It’s hard to ask people to change established systems so an important lesson is that collaboration should start at the grant application phase. That way the foundation and the projects can be sure that their evaluation frameworks allow them to answer their research questions and that they have solid data quality control mechanisms”.
Trust is needed from both sides in order for capacity strengthening activities to be successful:
“The implementation projects are not obliged to collaborate with us so the capacity-strengthening effort can only work if there is a tangible benefit. Capacity-strengthening takes time and these are busy people”.
The IDEAS Technical Resource Centre offers support to match the demands of the projects and includes:
- Document review
- Access to the School’s distance learning materials
- Short courses designed to match grantee needs
- Collaboration on writing academic papers
- Monthly e-newsletters
- Hands-on support to enhance capacity for effective monitoring and evaluation
Hands-on and applied support helps implementation projects improve services
Activities where IDEAS and implementation project staff sat down and tackled problems together had the best outcomes.
“Support is most effective when we worked alongside projects, such as in the Geographic Information System (GIS) course run by Chris Grundy where project staff used their own data to build mapping systems into their analysis framework. Also, Tanya Marchant worked closely with colleagues in Nigeria to help set up a Continuous Survey”.
The aim of the continuous survey was to help a project in Gombe State, Northeast Nigeria track progress in maternal and newborn health-related knowledge, actions and uptake of life-saving interventions. Survey data are collected, analysed and interpreted every three months, giving the project a regular and frequent opportunity to examine the effectiveness of their programme and for course-correction if needed to better serve the health needs of families in Gombe.
Common benefits from capacity strengthening
IDEAS runs an annual learning workshop where projects from all three settings meet and sessions are structured to encourage cross-project collaboration and learning.
The lessons from IDEAS’ work in measurement, learning and evaluation will be built on as staff from IDEAS, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the implementation projects continue to improve the health and survival of mothers and neonates throughout the world.
Photo credits: Paolo Patruno Photography