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Q&A: Impact Assessment Key in Rural Development Projects

Marianela Jarroud interviews Eduardo Ramírez, Latin American Centre for Rural Development researcher

SANTIAGO, Jun 13 2013 (IPS) - The Latin American Centre for Rural Development (RIMISP) is promoting a method for assessing strategies, results, reach and impact of IFAD-funded agricultural projects targeting vulnerable groups in the region.

RIMISP’s project on assessing poverty and inequality in rural Latin America is studying the situation in the countryside as well as the evaluation methods used by programmes in the region supported by IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development).

This last component, led by senior RIMISP researcher Eduardo Ramírez, is aimed at adjusting and expanding IFAD’s Results and Impact Management System (RIMS).

RIMISP researcher Eduardo Ramírez during the interview with IPS. Credit: RIMISP

RIMISP researcher Eduardo Ramírez during the interview with IPS. Credit: RIMISP

The objective is to assess the roughly two dozen IFAD-supported projects in the region and shed light on rural development policy strategies in Latin America.

In an interview with IPS in the Chilean capital, where RIMISP is based, Ramírez explained that one of IFAD’s aims is to be help produce intervention models, “because the point is for countries to use these methodologies to generate projects and have a greater reach.”

Q: What countries has the RIMISP project covered?

A: We carried out a review of the systems in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Later we held the Project Monitoring and Evaluation Method workshop May 14-15 in Lima, where we brought together international and regional IFAD people and government delegates.

We discussed this proposal and realised that there is room for bringing RIMS together with the projects, which is what we are doing now.

Q: Is it also possible to work together with national evaluation systems?

A: There is room for that, but not much, because the countries’ evaluation systems are linked to a cycle of public administration that goes beyond, or has little to do with, the projects.

And the results were uneven. In Colombia there is a good chance to do things; in Brazil, because of the size of the country and of the projects, there are possibilities although not at the level of the central government but of the states.

In Mexico, a greater effort is needed, because of a strategy that sets priorities with biannual plans that depend on the government, which means it is more complicated to make headway there. Peru is a possibility, but a system to evaluate social projects is just being installed. In Chile, IFAD does not have any projects, and in the end the country didn’t participate in the workshop.

Q: What stood out in the assessment of the countries?

A: It’s important to highlight that all of the countries in the region are moving towards institutionalised impact assessment systems, which are being uncoupled from more political or electoral aspects in order to turn them into systems with a strong technical base, which in some countries are more independent than in others.

They are also starting to generate quite interesting information about the results and the effects of the projects that are being carried out in the different countries.

Q: Why is project impact evaluation so important?

A: If you want to have an impact on policy-making and you want to demonstrate that your way of working is consistent with the restrictions or the context of rural poverty in Latin America, impact assessment is essential, in order for you to have credibility.

But not just any impact evaluation. That is why it was important to research the impact assessment protocols and systems of the different countries, what the countries find reasonable, who they believe, what is the standard for impact evaluation.

Q: What did that research find?

A: We found that the tendency is to produce much more standardised systems that require a lot of information, not only on impact evaluation but on how that evaluation is done, what credibility the process has.

So there is a set of factors that have to be controlled or anticipated in the impact evaluation process, in order for that result to be in line with the idea of having an influence on public policies in the region.

Q: How are results measured?

A: That is one of the discussions that we are holding. We have said the results have to be measured on the basis of two concepts: first, the assessment must be carried out where the hoped-for impact is to occur – that is, among families and households; and second, we have to measure what we have plausibly modified.

So we’re talking about coherence between the theory of change, or the aims of the project, and what we are going to measure as an impact.

Q: How important are transparency and accountability?

A: Not a lot of emphasis has been put on developing these elements, but impact assessment contributes to accountability.

Q: Have the rural development projects achieved concrete results in terms of reducing poverty?

A: Brazil is a good example of that. Colombia and Mexico are also making a significant effort to integrate small farmers and marginalised rural areas in markets that are a bit more dynamic, in order to change rural living conditions.

Peru is carrying out an interesting experiment, combining cash transfer policies with more productive strategies in order to make the most vulnerable local economies more sustainable.

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