Today, a belated New Year’s resolution regarding our coffee programming: “mo’ better” monitoring and evaluation in 2012.
Actually, the resolution itself is not belated. On the contrary, the issue of improved assessment of impact at origin has been gathering momentum steadily for me over the course of the past year, and has been the topic of some very good discussions on this blog in recent weeks.
It reflects key lessons learned during our recently closed CAFE Livelihoods project, and some good recommendations issued by our friends at CIAT in their external evaluation of the project. In fact, we liked CIAT’s recommendations on CAFE Livelihoods so much that we decided to make it a part of our team for our Borderlands Coffee Project, a five-year initiative in Colombia and Ecuador that is just getting off the ground.
We are working to build an M&E (monitoring and evaluation) system for Borderlands that is a cut above what we managed to put in place for CAFE Livelihoods — an effort that starts with our team itself.
The Borderlands M&E team will be an integrated inter-institutional team including CRS M&E specialists, a couple of economists and a Ph.D. from CIAT, and the good folks from Cropster, who are helping us create a customized data platform to store and manage everything online.
The design of the project M&E system will improve our credibility in attributing observed outcomes to project activities — we will be tracking both treatment and control groups to see how they perform on key indicators of success. And we will be gathering data on a wide range of variables associated with success on those indicators to ensure that our final analysis is not skewed by variables we omitted from the process.
But arguably the most important innovation in the Borderlands project is its learning agenda. In my experience, all good coffee projects foster learning at the farm and farm enterprise levels. Few put in place people and processes to ensure that learning is systematized and analyzed by a team of development professionals, all with the explicit goal of helping coffee industry leaders and public-sector decision-makers what approaches are really working in coffee communities to make smallholder farmer livelihoods more secure.
I am meeting this week with our Borderlands M&E team to begin to build out a system that ensures we measure our own performance and impact effectively. But I want to also make sure that we are asking ourselves the questions on the future of sustainable coffee that industry leaders and others are asking, and gathering the data that will help us contribute to the conversation based on credible evidence from the coffeelands.