ABV recently undertook an in-depth evaluation of assignments at six host organisations in three countries. This evaluation resulted in a report documenting long-term organisational and community outcomes to which international volunteering assignments have contributed.
The report can be viewed here.
The challenge of demonstrating impact.
Demonstrating how international volunteering contributes to longer-term community outcomes is a challenge and something the international volunteering community continues to grapple with.
In order to better understand the process, ABV developed a theory of change as part of its Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement (MERI) Framework. The theory seeks to explain how capacity building assignments undertaken by expert volunteers can contribute to long-term community outcomes associated with the alleviation of poverty, such as improved and sustainable economic and social conditions.
Testing ABV’s theory of change
To understand whether this theory of change was unfolding in practice, ABV undertook an in-depth evaluation of assignments and changes at six host organisations in three countries; Bahay Tuluyan and GIYFF Farm School in the Philippines; Craft Beauty, COHED and KOTO in Vietnam; and SAMIC Limited in Cambodia. More than thirty ABV implemented assignments have taken place in these locations.
Through participatory exercises and the use of a Most Significant Change methodology ABV found not only organisational changes, but communities with improved and sustainable economic and social conditions.
Importantly the evaluators were also able to identify evidence that the volunteer assignments had contributed to these outcomes, although the evidence was more explicit in some locations than others.
Common design and implementation features
ABV was able to identify several common features present in the design and implementation of most assignments which seem to have been important in bringing about the changes observed.
The experience of the volunteers meant that they provided high level, strategic advice to host organisations and developed significant bonds of trust with counterparts, necessary for buy-in to the work. The volunteers also worked with senior management to build core business capacities of the organisations.
A key feature of ABV’s model is that volunteers are able to modify assignment objectives while on assignment. This contributed to capacity building needs being correctly identified, receptiveness to outside input by counterparts and mutual understanding of working styles, and an understanding by counterparts of the relevancy of the assignment to their work and the broader organisation. As the assignments were delivered consecutively, each one complemented or built on previous work. Thus, subsequent assignments contributed to earlier learning being sustained and were designed in light of outputs, outcomes and knowledge gained from earlier assignments. Further, as assignments were short-term, the emphasis was on mentoring rather than ‘doing the work’ and encouraged the transfer of practical and relevant skills and knowledge using active learning methods.
The full report can be viewed here.