Evaluating rural extension

Julia Laidlaw

The Guide to Evaluating Rural Extension is a new resource produced by The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS).  In addition to its intended use for rural extension,  many of the examples and guidance frameworks for applied design and analysis could also be applied to evaluating other types of interventions.

Rather than being overly prescriptive about specific tools, the guide provides a pool of best practice approaches and points for consideration when conducting an evaluation. The authors seem to have done this deliberately to emphasize the need for greater thought about the concepts and principles behind an evaluation and using these to guide the choice of methods most appropriate to the circumstances.    

The guide has a nice balance of relevant evaluation theory with user-friendly explanations and with separately tabled examples that draw on GFRAS practical experience. The relationship between these two sets of information is clear, well defined and easy to understand.  

The authors give an easily digested reasoning as to the importance of developing monitoring and evaluation systems that are based on results frameworks and theories of change that look beyond simply measuring quantifiable outputs and activities and to more broader and generally less tangible outcome and impacts. They highlight the benefits of ‘participatory monitoring’ as a way to increase stakeholder capacity and ownership of a projects, as well as for offering a tool for actors to think critically about their own work and  help identify ways to improve it. This means using monitoring as a way to produce information about performance and increase the sustainability and effectiveness of an intervention.

The guide is particularly useful in how it discusses the challenges of evaluating the impacts of interventions such as extension – “a low key intermediary institution that does not produce directly tangible outputs, but which, if absent or ineffective, can result in systemic failures” (p.26).

These challenges are relevant to evaluating other types development (including my area of urban economic development). A s a relative newcomer to evaluation, I really appreciated their explanation of how, by looking at a wider perspective of the effects of an interventions in complex and dynamically changing contexts you can better see and measure the impact and outcomes of a programme through its contribution to the system as a whole. Focussing on contribution rather than attribution could avoid the problems that can arise from applying “activities and outputs” focused frameworks to the evaluation of programs that do not lend themselves to quantification.

Review by Julia Laidlaw, RMIT University, Australia.