From the M&E Perspectives' Series by

Kadambari Anantram, Director - Research & Evaluation, Phicus

I have spent the last several years evaluating programmatic interventions across a spectrum of domains in the development sector.  Funded by corporates/corporate foundations, these interventions are rolled out indirectly through NGOs that they support.  Usually, we use non-experimental impact evaluation tools, given the nature of the program intervention (e.g. Does access to STEM libraries enhance STEM learning outcomes? Is there a correlation between verbal skills and mathematical intelligence? Do Agri Business Centres function as independent, non-partisan service providers?)  


My key learning from these evaluations is as follows:

Intentions behind Programs are always good.

However, more often that not, these are not supported by clear goals, a clear assessment framework and a carefully evaluated and selected approach, after piloting a few.


Post-hoc, program owners grapple with choosing an apposite approach or bemoan the adoption of a wrong approach that has affected achievement of envisaged program outcomes.  I believe that a large chunk of these problems can be circumvented by conducting pilot studies.


What are pilot studies? The term is used in two different ways.

  1. As a feasibility study – a small-scale version/or trial runs done in preparation for the program

  2. As a pre-test for a particular research instrument such as a questionnaire or interview guide


In my experience, while pilots (feasibility/formative studies) are a necessary pre-requisite for experimental research studies and/or in studies funded by multilateral/bilateral funders and government departments, this is not always the case for programs funded by corporates and corporate foundations.  I would argue that it is critical for these actors to insist on their grantees conducting and/or presenting findings from pilot studies.


Why insist on a pilot?


ANSWER 1: It’s the first step to scale! The buzzword in development.  Conduct a pilot, evaluate it, learn from it and then roll out the program

ANSWER 2: I know that the money is going for the right needs! Logically, funds should flow to areas and issues of greatest need.

  • Is your grantee’s idea truly innovative/novel? A pilot answers this by placing the idea in tangibility

  • Is this program really needed? A pilot is an organic summary or synthesis of existing grassroots evidence. This avoids duplication of efforts (read time and money)

  • Does this program have well-defined goals and objectives? A pilot helps you answer critical questions, which aids evolution of ideas, leading to a better Theory of Change and log frameworks


ANSWER 3: I know the money is going to the right organisation! Pilots demonstrate the capacity of the NGOs to train field staff, implement and monitor the project.

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