Results-based management is the technique most commonly used by donors and the NGO sector to assess programme effectiveness.
The key elements of results-based management are:
- Identify clear and measurable results – ie what a project aims to achieve. Define them at different levels, including ‘outputs’, ‘outcomes’ and ‘impact’. (Different words may be used here, like ‘purpose’ or ‘goal’)
- Select indicators to measure progress towards each output, outcome and impact
- Set targets for each indicator, used to judge performance
- Develop systems to collect data on actual results
- Compare actual results to the targets
- Collect any additional information that may be needed (eg by an evaluation)
- Use performance information to make decisions about the project, learn what works and what doesn’t and report to external stakeholders.
This is summarised in the flowchart below.
The whole system can be summed up in a ‘Logical Framework’ grid, much favoured by many donors as part of a grant application process.
Results-Based Management: Ten Problems
Research has shown that results-based management is not an effective way of managing and reporting most NGOs’ performance. Here are ten reasons why:
- Results-based management assumes that social changes can be predicted, controlled and reduced to a single overarching problem. But they can’t.
- Social results and impact normally lie outside NGOs’ control, and may take years to emerge. Many other stronger factors influence them. So results cannot be attributed to a specific organisation’s work.
- Logframes tend to assume that a whole community / organisation shares the same interests. But there are always political issues. Different people have different and conflicting interests. Some people gain while others lose.
- Logframes tend to focus attention more on a specific NGOs’ actions and less on the people we are trying to help and their wider context, or other actors’ efforts.
- Initial plans are never completely accurate; local circumstances and priorities change during a project. So plans are not a reliable guide for action. Actions often have unintended consequences, not included in an original logframe.
- Logframes reduce flexibility. So they squeeze out on-going dialogue with local people and learning / trying different ways of doing things.
- Some of NGOs’ most important goals cannot be easily measured or assessed. Changes may be subjective and intangible (like increases in confidence).
- Logframes suit decision-makers who work in elite languages using management tools. They do not naturally suit poor, illiterate or marginalised people.
- Reports of actual performance compared to logframes are not always reliable.
- Logframes are convenient for donors and senior managers; they can encourage better analysis; but they are generally not used by field staff after initial planning, because they do not fit with how NGO work really happens on the ground.
'...the majority of NGO staff indicated that they did not refer to the logframes once funding was secured and implementation began. ... What is written is often divorced from reality, both at the planning and reporting stages of the cycle. ... The plans and guidelines often prove irrelevant at best, distorting at worst, and do little to support or enhance the development work being undertaken.' Tina Wallace
A future for logframes?
Given these limitations, is there any place at all for log frames? If changes are made to the way it is used, a log frame can be a useful and clear way to document and share plans, guide activities and evaluate performance.
Changes that would need to be made:
- Carry out the planning process with beneficiaries,
- Elevate the status of the outcomes and demote the specific strategies and activities that are only a ‘best guess’ at what will work.
- Allow NGO managers the flexibility to achieve outputs or outcomes within budget rather than carry out the activities within budget.
If you support this new way of thinking, please vsit Who Counts? website.
Also see the Accountability Section of the Guide
If you have already put any of these ideas into practice, please share your experience with other Mango users by submitting a case study.