Lessons from Uganda – start with a story

ImpactReady are supporting IOD PARC to design and run an Impact Evaluation of the World Food Programme’s work in Northern Uganda. We are looking at a specific period, 2005-2011. This covers the end of conflict in the region and transition to recovery and development. We are also looking a specific set of interventions, which gave food rations to people in exchange for participation in public works activities or to support them to complete skills training programmes.

The objectives of both Food-for-Work and Food-for-Training were two-fold:

  1. Provide people with food rations to meet their immediate needs
  2. Build assets (such as woodlots, roads, ponds and small businesses) that would allow people to rebuild their livelihoods and increase their productivity.

The main challenge faced by WFP at that time was ongoing insecurity and large movements of Internally Displaced Populations. This also makes it a challenge now to look back and understand what impact WFP’s programmes made.

Standard Impact Evaluations compare what actually happened with what would have happened if there had not been an intervention. This is called a ‘difference method’ – the impact is said to be the difference between reality and a counterfactual (an alternative reality where the intervention does not exist). This normally uses a comparison group of people who did not receive an intervention to estimate what the world would have been like for people who received WFP assistance if they had not received that support.

Our challenge is that there is very little data available from the conflict time, and that both recipients and non-recipients of WFP support have moved around a lot. To meet this challenge, we have drawn on excellent recent work by DFID to expand the range of designs that evaluators can use for assessing impact.

Over the past week, we have been prototyping some parts of our design in Northern Uganda to make sure that they work before launching the full data collection process. Whilst doing so, we rediscovered a vital lesson: no matter what you are interested in, and how clever your design is, people respond best when you start by being interested in their story.

We invited people to share the story of their village with us, to introduce us to the events that they think are important, and to explain to us how changes in their lives have come about. Through this process we ended up with all the information we needed, and lots more valuable insights that we would never have had if we had just asked questions about things that we thought were important.

If you are interested in Participatory Impact Assessment methodologies, Tufts University produced a guide for practitioners in 2008.

If you would like to support Food for Assets in future conflicts, WFP has a Get Involved page on their website.