An observant reader of this blog pointed out the irony in me working for an organization called Young Power in Social Action, given my recent achievement of official middle-age status. I believe his exact words were “Young Power in Social Action? Who are you kidding?” It’s a fair comment – a slightly nasty one, but fair, nonetheless. And it did start me thinking about the organization that I’m supporting. Given that I’ve yet to dedicate a blog entry to YPSA and the work I was recruited to perform here, it seems like a good time to introduce both to all of you.
YPSA was created in Sitakund in 1985 in response to the United Nations’ declaration of that year as the International Youth Year. Initially known as “Young Power”, YPSA began its life as a club for youths seeking to make a change in their communities. The early years of the club were spent in developing sports and cultural programs for youth in the area, but the organization came of age with the arrival of a major cyclone in 1991. Participating in the relief and rehabilitation work that followed in the wake of the devastation proved to be a galvanizing moment for the club and spurred it on to seek greater and more long-term projects. A change in status was required in order to better pursue these goals, so the club transformed into a full-time development organization in 1992, renaming itself as “Young Power in Social Action”. Two of the founding members of the club, Arifur Rahman and Mahabubur Rahman (not related), have remained with the organization throughout its existence and now occupy the two top operational posts of Chief Executive Officer and Director of Field Operations, respectively.
The seventeen years that have passed since YPSA came into being as a development organization have seen it undergo substantial growth both in terms of the projects undertaken and the size of the organization. Currently, YPSA counts among its personnel over 600 full-time and 300 part-time staff, making it one of the largest NGOs (or non-governmental organizations) in Bangladesh. Beyond the staff members, YPSA is able to call on the services of over 500 volunteers trained by the organization. With its head office now located in Chittagong, YPSA also maintains field offices in eleven communities throughout the south-eastern part of the country. It estimates that the total population of disadvantaged and vulnerable people served by the organization is approximately five million people.
In order to reach this number of people, the projects and programs undertaken by YPSA are understandably diverse in their scope. Too numerous to list here, the thirty projects range from separate HIV/AIDS prevention programs for street-based sex workers, youth and garment workers to a program dedicated to the prevention of human trafficking to a pair of projects focused on disaster management and the reduction of risk from such events. One of the highest profile projects in the YPSA organization is the advocacy group that lobbies for more rights for those involved in the ship-breaking industry. Chittagong is one of global centres for this industry, which involves the dismantling of cargo ships that have completed their years of service and the selling of the scrap metal and other parts that result from their demolition. Conditions for the workers are deplorable and dangerous, and the attempt to improve these has earned YPSA much recognition internationally and an equal amount of enmity domestically from the local ship-breaking companies. More can found on this program in YPSA’s website dedicated to the issue: http://www.shipbreakingbd.info . And YPSA's own website can be found at http://www.ypsa.org.
With all of these projects running simultaneously, it can be difficult to determine the impact that they are having on the communities they serve. Funding for the projects often comes from a number of different international donors, and a common (and reasonable) requirement is for a project to report to its donor regularly on the progress made. These international donors tend to have their own favoured mechanism for reporting, and as a result, the projects within YPSA employ a myriad of structures to satisfy their respective donors. Though accepted as a necessary element of working with donors, the impact of these diverse reporting schemes has been to individualize the monitoring and evaluation of the projects to a certain extent, and a common framework for such activities is missing from YPSA. Without a shared system for monitoring and evaluation, it’s as if the projects are all speaking their own language, and the management of YPSA sensed that this babel of project reporting could result in the projects failing to deliver to their fullest capacity. A common Monitoring & Evaluation (or M&E) system for the projects was determined to be the best way to rectify this, an internal system that would operate as a complement to the reporting requirements of the donors.
This is where I come in. As the M&E Adviser for YPSA, my main responsibility is to design and implement an M&E system for all of the programs and projects over the course of the next two years. Or rather, my responsibility is to work with YPSA to help them develop the tools and skill needed to do this for themselves. Understanding that my placement is only for two years, the expectation of YPSA and VSO is that I will help individuals within YPSA learn how to construct the M&E system and to keep it running after I leave in 2011. To that end, YPSA has already assigned an individual within the organization to act as my counterpart during this time, someone who already occupies the position of M&E specialist for the programs and projects. The expectation is that the amount of work entailed in the implementation and continuation of an internal M&E system will dictate the creation of a team dedicated to this pursuit.
How are we going to construct this M&E system? As a starting point, a format for the system must be selected. Based on the stated requirements of YPSA for this reporting structure, I decided that an Outcome Mapping system would best suit their needs. Briefly, Outcome Mapping focuses on the changes in behaviour that an organization is able to contribute to in its boundary partners that lead to a greater change overall in the community. Boundary partners are those individuals and organizations with whom YPSA has direct contact and is able to effect an influence on their behaviour. The Outcome Mapping system is designed to examine how a project or program can develop its strategies and internal organizational actions to move the boundary partners toward behaviours that it would like to see exhibited by these partners. The actual reporting on these activities is done through a series of journals that can be reviewed on a quarterly basis or however often the organization deems it necessary. Management can review these journals with an eye to assess whether the project or program is achieving its stated goals and the changes that may be needed if it is falling short.
Still with me? I know this isn’t exactly riveting stuff. With the format for the M&E system selected and confirmed by YPSA, I modified a facilitators’ guide for Outcome Mapping that had been developed by the International Development and Research Centre in Ottawa. The guide sets out a series of workshops to help the members of a project team develop a structure for their Outcome Mapping M&E. My expectation is that this guide will be used by the members of the YPSA M&E team whenever they want to implement an M&E system for a new or existing project or program. The next step will be to take this facilitators’ guide for a test drive by running a pilot workshop with one of the projects within YPSA. This is where the fun begins, as we get to see how well the plan translates into actual practice. I expect there will be some tweaks needed to make the workshops, er, work, so once the pilot is complete, I’ll sit down with my counterpart to review what went well and what flopped and make any adjustments needed before moving on to the next project. Along the way, we hope to develop M&E expertise in other YPSA personnel, so that they can also start to run workshops for the remaining projects and programs.
So, that’s the plan as it stands right now. But if my experience in Nigeria has taught me anything, it’s that a plan is like a garbage truck – everyone agrees that it’s needed, but no one wants to follow it. So, while a plan is good to have, I expect that things will change over the course of the two years that I’m here. And that’s part of what makes this position so interesting. Should anyone have any suggestions that you think would be helpful as I work through this, please feel free to post a comment or send me an email. I can’t promise regular updates on the blog about the M&E work, since I think most people would find it eye-crossingly dull, but I will post anything that strikes me as worth sharing. Thanks, everyone, for your continued support!