What Does More Equitable Impact Look Like?



Communities expressed diverse interests regarding how they wanted to receive assistance. Some community members said they were happy receiving aid in the form of vouchers while others wanted cash. What was interesting was that the underlying reason was the same–convenience and choice–but what was convenient for some members who were closer to stores was not as convenient for the others who were more remote.

Karri says that often development organizations want a clear-cut answer from this type of survey, but that often does not reflect the reality. She critiques both the lack of agile systems that are able to distinguish preferences among households or communities and the attitudes of development organizations that do not want to hear about the complexities that are inherent in FCAS.

Adapt your M&E accordingly.

Karri insists on the importance of adapting a program’s monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems to capture data that speaks to how the community defines success. Karri has noticed organizations, particularly those from a humanitarian background, trying to shift towards centering community definitions of success in their work, but has found that they struggle when it comes to M&E.

“Achieving more equitable impact is about asking better questions and using mixed methods to gather more meaningful data.”

She finds that these types of organizations tend to be more adept at collecting quantitative data. But, when it comes to bringing in more nuanced findings through qualitative data, she notices that they can be both skeptical of the validity of data and pressed for time to deeply engage with it. She finds that this issue not only impacts the work on the current programs but also future programming.

“If you don’t fix your M&E to measure the right things, then the next program doesn’t have the data it needs to be designed differently.”

Decide how the data will inform decision-making.

An important step towards measuring ‘the right things’ is thinking ahead about how the information will be used and by whom. Karri thinks that creating meaningful impact is linked to the decision you make with information.

“One of the questions I always start [an evaluation] process with is, ‘What decisions are going to be made with this piece of work and who is making those decisions?’”

Ask the next logical question.

Karri explains that the second step is asking the follow-up question. For example, if a program has evidence of a positive impact on household income, she believes the program then needs to ask the next logical question such as were the children educated because of that income, did the family eat better, etc.

“We have to look at impact, not as a set of indicators, but to inform what’s next.”

Karri admits that she is as interested in small changes as in big ones. She says that sometimes MSD programs tend to ignore changes unless they are at scale. According to Karri, this is a mistake because even if the change occurred with just a small number of households, this change can be life-changing for those families. Small changes can also yield big insights that may help a program eventually reach a larger scale and achieve greater impact.

Karri Goeldner Byrne is a Market Systems Development expert with more than 25 years of experience advising leading international development organizations and implementing programs in fragile and conflict affected situations.

This blog series is written by the Canopy Lab’s Managing Partner and Inclusion+ Practice Lead Holly Lard Krueger with the support of Affiliate Consultant, Audrey Lodes. The Canopy Lab is a Washington, DC-based consulting firm specialized in the practical application of systems thinking.