A version of this article originally appeared in The Link, LINKAGES quarterly newsletter, and has been posted with permission.
Most of us know a brilliant person who lacks the practical skills to get things done efficiently. Similarly, an organization with strong technical competence will still struggle to achieve its goals if its organizational skills are weak. Pact, a LINKAGES core partner, is building the organizational capacity of key-population (KP) groups in program management, financial management and resource mobilization. At Pact, capacity development is a continuous process that fosters the abilities and agency of individuals, institutions, and communities to achieve their goals and contribute to local solutions.
Pact's capacity development approach is rooted in the baseline understanding of local partners’ unique needs and emphasizes learning by doing. This approach encourages KP networks and organizations to take ownership of and plan for their capacity development goals, recognizing the unique contexts, experiences, skills and knowledge that each group already brings to the table. One example of our work under LINKAGES is the capacity-building efforts under way with the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) in Malawi.
CEDEP was founded in 2005 to address the health needs of men who have sex with men (MSM) through advocacy, outreach and peer education programs. In 2015, CEDEP began working with LINKAGES by adapting the HIV treatment cascade framework and working with peer educators to provide KP-friendly HIV prevention and care services. Over the past year, CEDEP has made significant strides in its organizational capacity in areas such as finance, program delivery, human resources and most significantly, monitoring and evaluation (M&E).
LINKAGES interviewed Elizabeth Mpunga, social behavior change communications advisor for Pact in Malawi; Louis Banda, senior M&E advisor for LINKAGES in Malwai; and Gift Trapence, executive director CEDEP in Malwai to illustrate how LINKAGES and CEDEP worked together to improve their M&E systems, which, in turn, have increased CEDEP’s social capital and improved outreach to MSM communities in Malawi.
Q: How did Pact work with CEDEP to build its organizational capacity?
Elizabeth Mpunga (Pact): Pact applied the Integrated Technical Organizational Capacity Assessment (ITOCA) tool adapted to the LINKAGES context to assess CEDEP’s technical and organizational capacities. The ITOCA, which was carried out using participatory methodology with CEDEP, revealed M&E as a priority area for improvement.
Based on the outcomes of the ITOCA, CEDEP developed an institutional strengthening plan that prioritized developing their M&E capacity. Pact offered a suite of support activities to address this need. For one, Pact helped recruit, hire, and orient an M&E officer, a position that did not exist at CEDEP prior to LINKAGES. Pact also worked directly with CEDEP’s peer educators to introduce, adapt, and apply monitoring tools to collect data on reach and distribution of prevention materials (such as condoms and lubricants), store and file data at all levels, and analyze collected information to make programming decisions.
CEDEP and its peer educators had the opportunity to apply the M&E tools in the field with oversight and guidance from Pact’s capacity development team. This is important because learning theory in a classroom is not sufficient to embrace the use of M&E tools. CEDEP applied and practiced M&E in everyday activities to meet their immediate needs and thus internalized and appreciated the value of informed decision making using data, which led to greater impact for communities.
Q: How have peer educators responded to an emphasis on quality M&E data?
Gift Trapence (CEDEP): The M&E tools are a welcome change, but are also a shift from the traditional way of doing things. Historically, it has been simple to just distribute condoms. Now, we are also tracking treatment services and systematically collecting information on our beneficiaries. It took time for peer educators to understand and accept this change, given differences in experience and education levels. However, a combination of inclassroom and field trainings helped them apply M&E tools and be supported during the process.
Q: How has CEDEP’s M&E capacity grown during your time working with the organization?
Louis Banda (FHI 360): At the very beginning, CEDEP didn’t have experience with M&E tools or a person assigned to M&E; there was no comprehensive methodology for collecting, managing, and analyzing KP data. With support from LINKAGES, CEDEP began using standard tools and assessing their information to make decisions. Now, for example, CEDEP facilitates monthly meetings with peer educators, where they present data on the number of KPs reached that month, preventive services provided, and, even more important, KPs not reached. In the following months, they use this information to prioritize reaching KPs that were missed. This wasn’t done before.
Q: Why has building a strong M&E capacity been important to CEDEP?
Gift: CEDEP has always believed in the need for sound data to help us track our progress. We cannot determine how much change we have effected in our communities without quality data, and we can only obtain quality data with a well-functioning M&E system.
Q: How has an improved M&E capacity contributed to CEDEP’s programming?
Elizabeth: Strengthened M&E systems have allowed CEDEP to use an evidence-based approach to programming. For example, CEDEP now has information about gaps in reach of services to MSMs and adjusts programming to address those gaps. This has increased the organization’s credibility with beneficiaries and donors, earning them compliments of partner organizations from Malawi to Washington. This will help CEDEP establish strong relationships and secure future funding.
Q: Is there a single accomplishment that has been a highlight for the organization?
Gift: I would highlight bringing on a qualified M&E specialist and passing on the importance of quality data to our peer educators. The peer educators at the grassroots level collect the data, so CEDEP needs their support in gathering quality information on uptake of services so that we can accurately follow the treatment cascade.
Q: Did Pact coordinate with other programs in Malawi?
Elizabeth: Before engaging CEDEP, Pact connected with existing incountry capacity development efforts, particularly those implemented by Counterpart International (STEPS Program), to avoid duplication of efforts. Along with FHI 360, the organizations compared assessment tools, results, country and community priorities, and systems to ensure streamlined coordination. The three organizations continue to collaborate through meetings and shared insights to provide comprehensive technical and organizational support to CEDEP.
Q: What should CEDEP focus on next?
Louis: LINKAGES in Malawi has an electronic database to track individual KP members confidentially and securely on services received, upcoming appointments, change in location, and more. I hope to see CEDEP use this resource for more up-to-date tracking of beneficiaries.
Q: What institutional systems is CEDEP looking to strengthen in the future?
Gift: We hope to apply a similarly rigorous M&E approach to our programming on gender-based violence by collecting information on prevalence and working with our communities to address human rights violations. We would also like to use a similar approach in CEDEP’s other programs, including our advocacy work.
Contributors to this article include: Diana Muratova, Pact; Elizabeth Mpunga, Pact; Louis Banda, LINKAGES Malawi; and Gift Trapence, CEDEP Malawi.