Building Local Capacity One Indicator at a Time

Donald Harbick, Project Director, and Dr. Paul Waibale, Deputy Project Director
Building Local Capacity Project, South Africa

As project leaders, we have to make administrative as well as strategic decisions by reviewing a range of data and information. A key source of our information is the Performance Monitoring Plan (PMP) and other project data like finance data, service delivery data, etc. While many health service projects do a good job of reporting on their project’s progress, project managers do not always have or take the time to analyze what the performance trends mean for the project’s future course.

Project management teams often think of monitoring data as the M&E team’s domain. This is not the case with us. We, at the Building Local Capacity (BLC) Project, have a different approach. We use performance trends to inform discussions about the progress and future focus of the project, our partners, and our continued work in Southern Africa. Indeed, we see our work as a continual arc of “plan, do, document, and share,” and our technical advisors work closely with our M&E and communications teams to engage in this process.

We want to share four recommendations with other project leadership teams that wish to more fully exploit the power of data to inform their project management and to effectively tell their projects’ stories. These are our recommended practices:

  1. Periodically review performance trends. Identify a set of 10 core performance indicators, ratios, and proportions as a set of project well-being indicators and review these on a quarterly basis. During these reviews, we have found it useful to discuss the trends we see. If we are underperforming, we discuss why this might be, and what we can or should do to correct course, including adjusting targets. We also look to see where we are on track or over-performing and we celebrate the successes and reflect on the lessons of what we are doing that works.
  2. Visualize your data, because a visual speaks a thousand words. Data tables are boring. Our creative M&E team develops simple infographics to show how the project has progressed on select indicators. They use free software to develop an infographic of the project’s quarterly progress. As project leaders, we find that appealing visuals are easy to communicate to a wide range of audiences.
  3. Tell your project’s story with multiple sources of data. Our technical and M&E teams collect anecdotes during their monitoring trips and share them with the communications team, who develop success stories on a regular basis. We find that combining project data with success stories is a powerful way to touch the minds and hearts of our audience.
  4. Identify so-what questions and develop a plan to address them. These are important questions for projects to ask ourselves. We are building the capacity of local organizations in Southern Africa so they can be resilient and sustainable. But how will we know when we get there? We discuss the limitations of the indicators that we collect and ways in which the project can collect additional data that will help communicate successes and lessons learned.

At the BLC Project, we continue to look for ways to use our project data so we can think and act strategically. Recently, we brought together our technical advisors and our M&E staff to look at how data can help us be curious and creative. We looked at performance trends and talked about what the data can and cannot tell us. We divided into groups and did simulated exercises of crises that we can solve using data. This one-day workshop, facilitated by the Center for Leadership and Management’s Director for M&E and Research, also helped us identify our data, monitoring, evaluation, and data visualization gaps.

At the LMG Project, we applaud project leaders who use performance and other data during management reviews and for course correction, evaluation, and learning. We consider this a “management best practice.” If you are a project director who applies this practice, we want to hear from you. Please share your experience with us

Also in this edition:

Performance Management Plan Development Experience and Lessons Learned by Dr. Ataullah Saeedzai

Capturing In-Country Specifics and Inter-Country Diversity in a Global PMP: Approaches and lessons by Meghan Guida and Dr. Reshma Trasi

Data for Design: Using Data to Improve the Virtual Leadership Development Program by Mariah Boyd-Boffa, Elizabeth Duncan McLean, and Dr. Reshma Trasi