Programming during a global pandemic

Tips on How to adjust your project

The global coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the way that the global population lives, works, and relates to each other. For international development work in particular, many common activities and elements of projects – like travel, in-person trainings and events – just aren’t possible right now.

One of the major questions on my mind this past week is how we, as international development professionals, can efficiently adjust to ensure that we can continue effective programming. As a MEL expert with a programming background, my first instinct is to return to the logic that serves as the foundation of each project and to figure out adjustments from there.

My first instinct is to return to the logic that serves as the foundation of each project and to figure out adjustments from there.

Return to the Logic

In my role as a consultant, I consistently emphasize the value of establishing the logic underpinning a project during the proposal stage. This is most effectively outlined through a logical framework/logic model.

Through building the framework, the individual drafting the proposal must identify how each activity is contributing to the overall goal and objective/s. During implementation, if something changes and a new activity is added or a current activity is adjusted, program staff must ensure they still fit within the parameters of the project goal and the objective (or one of the objectives). If not, a decision should be made to adjust the language.

g Think through Assumptions and External Factors

A common way of working through a logical framework process also includes thinking about the assumptions and external factors that could influence your project. Assumptions often refer to the necessary components for the project to be successful, i.e. what expertise and materials are needed, which stakeholders or grantees need to be involved, and what factors need to be included.   

External factors relate to the elements that are not under direct control of the project but can influence implementation and results. In this case, I don’t imagine that many projects outside the field of global public health listed a global pandemic as a possible external factor – but here we are. And how do we move forward?

Conduct a Reflection Exercise

To start, I recommend returning to the planning stage and reconnecting with those underlying principles of your project. You can do this by sitting down with your team and conducting a reflection exercise to seek the answers to the following prompts:

  • What is the problem that your project is working to address?
  • What is the overall goal of your project?
  • What were the original activities?
  • What was being produced or delivered and who were the participants (outputs)?
  • What were the short- and medium-term changes (outcomes) occurring after each activity was implemented?
  • What were the long-term changes (impact) that were projected to occur as a result of the project?
  • How was each activity affected by current events?
  • What activities can be modified to comply with current restrictions (i.e.: virtual trainings, webinars, calls instead of meetings, etc.)? How will you describe modifications and how will this alter targets?
  • What activities need to be postponed or cancelled?
  • What alternative activities could be implemented that still address the problem and contribute to the overall goal?

At the end of this exercise, you should have an idea of the activities that you can continue implementing, those that need to be adjusted, those that need to be added and those that need to be cancelled – all while still moving the project toward the objective/s and goal that you planned on.

If Reflection isn’t Enough, Revise the Framework

There is also a likelihood, that this situation has caused a complete disruption in your project and going through this exercise won’t help you adequately adjust your activities, while possible replacement activities don’t exist at this time. The pandemic has maybe even gone so far as to re-configure the problem that the project is working to address.

The pandemic has maybe even gone so far as to re-configure the problem that the project is working to address.

If this is the case, revisions need to be made to the entire logical framework. Then, the results of this exercise will allow you to justify to the funder the need for an entire project overhaul and/or a shift in the problem and project goal. The good news is that taking the time to reflect, discuss, and write down the changes will bolster your argument for the need for these changes.

w Main Takeaways

In summary, here are a few tips to adjusting your project as a result of the pandemic:

  • Reflect with your team on the status of the current project using the prompts provided.
  • Write down the necessary changes that need to occur – both to current activities and the subtraction/addition of activities.
  • Review and Adjust your project logic and description as well as the description of the problem, if necessary, to reflect these changes and demonstrate how the adjusted project will still achieve a similar level of impact. Make sure to describe your revised outputs and outcomes (if applicable) as well.
  • Implement your new activities but be prepared to iterate on-the-go. There is a high likelihood that adjusted and/or new activities may need some reworking. Therefore, it is important to continuously document your efforts and gather feedback from participants to make sure you are adjusting along the way.

Finally,

  • Communicate with your donor/s. We are in a unique situation that everyone is experiencing programming challenges at the same time – your donors are no different. It is important to be as proactive as possible in communicating. You don’t want the donor to feel surprised if the entire project looks different in three months, so make sure that there are open lines of communication.

We are going through an extremely difficult time, the more proactive and solutions-oriented we can be now, the better off our projects and more importantly, the populations we are serving – will be. In this time when so many of us are required to stay at home, let us utilize this time for more reflection and improvement to our programs!

Did you know that HVFC offers monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) consulting services? If you are looking for more information or want a guide in this process, we would love to explore a collaboration with you! Contact us at info@hanvalk.org to get in touch with one of our monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) experts.

Additionally, starting in June 2020, we’ll be offering a series of webinars focused on MEL including the cross-section between two of the things we love the most – fundraising and MEL. You can find more details on our webinar page.

Emily Bango

Emily brings over nine years of experience leading project management and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) efforts for human rights and international development programs. She utilizes skills and perspectives developed through work at U.S.-based international NGOs and for a U.S. donor agency.  She is well-versed in a variety of global programs with a longstanding regional focus in Latin America. Emily holds a Masters degree in Public Management.

Key takeaways

  • Reflect with your team on the status of your current project
  • l Write down necessary changes
  • Review and adjust your project logic and problem description
  • Implement new activities but be prepared to iterate on-the-go
  • Communicate with your donor/s

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