The word impact is used in many different ways and contexts. An important step in our work on impact was therefore to agree on a definition within Simavi. We defined impact as
the lasting change in the lives of women and girls– in relation to our mission and their own perspectives – resulting from Simavi’s contribution. We acknowledge that some changes may be unintended or negative.
Adding the final sentence was important, as we believe that in our work it is important to be aware of, mitigate and evaluate the possible negative or unintended effects that our programmes can have.
Our impact journey
Increasing our impact is a continuous process. It is a journey that Simavi engaged on a few years ago and we continue to improve and learn as an organisation. Our focus on impact changes how we design our programmes, for example by making more use of evidence, and in how we implement them. In addition, our focus on impact provides us with a new lens to look at how we report to our donors. In our first Impact Report we focus on the outcomes and (where available) the impact of our programmes, and we only use output to illustrate our input and reach.
To paint a complete picture, we present quantitative data from evaluations and use case studies and interviews with women and girls, our partners and colleagues to present the story behind these numbers. We also believe that transparency is an essential part of impact-oriented working. This, we applied in our Impact Report by asking colleagues and partners to reflect on their work and our partnership. We also believe it is important to share our lessons learned with others. In our Impact Report we share some of the steps that we have taken as an organisation to increase the impact of our work as well as the lessons we learned along the way. We also participate in the Impact Challenge and took part in the first Impact Challenge Award process.
Five dimensions of well-being
As we define impact as a sustainable change, ideally we would like to go back to evaluate the impact of our programmes 2 or 3 years after the end of our interventions. Where possible, we explore ways and apply for funding to do this. At the same time, we explored ways to measure impact within available programme funding.
We identified elements of well-being at individual level that can serve as indicators of the ability to live a healthy life. Following a literature review, we defined what we call the five dimensions of well-being:
- women and girls feel physically healthier,
- more confident and positive,
- are more in control,
- feel safer,
- and experience positive relationships with those around them.
With this definition, we aim to distinguish impact from the outcomes that we achieve in our programmes and those defined in our Theory of Change. We assume that a positive change in these areas will result in a sustainable change in women’s health, and ultimately in their lives.
For each dimension, we have developed standard indicators that we can include in programme evaluations. In the coming years, we will be testing and validating these indicators and the matching means of verification. By using these indicators in our programmes, our aim is to get a better insight in the impact that we make as an organisation.
Our mission expresses the impact we want to have: to help create a world in which all women and girls are socially and economically empowered and pursue their rights to live a healthy life free from discrimination, coercion and violence. To maximise our impact on the lives of women and girls, we aim to ensure that all our activities contribute to our impact in the most efficient and effective way possible. This means that we increasingly invest in programme design, monitoring, evaluation and learning within our organisation and within our programmes. To this end we have adopted an evidence-informed and impact-oriented approach to programme design and implementation.
Initially we aimed for an evidence-based method of programme design, but we soon found that evidence is often conflicting or not available for the interventions that we use in our programmes. In many cases we cannot be entirely sure that we are selecting the mix of interventions that will have maximum impact. We therefore switched to evidenced-informed programme design, which means that we make use of evidence to inform our programme interventions wherever possible. This may be (rigorous) evidence from available literature or Simavi programme evaluations, as well as qualitative evidence from formative research.
Collaborations with research institutes
At the same time, we use information from our programmes evaluations to generate knowledge and insights into what works. This understanding also adds to the sector-wide evidence base on the impact of SRHR and WASH interventions. Whenever possible, we seek collaboration with knowledge institutes to generate rigorous evidence. For example, we are working with Maastricht University to implement a randomised controlled trial evaluation of the Ritu programme in Bangladesh. This is a unique opportunity for Simavi to generate evidence on a menstrual health programme to fill the gaps in knowledge we have identified. When we can demonstrate that the mix of interventions we use does indeed make an impact on the menstrual health of girls in Bangladesh, we can use this evidence to inform other existing and future programmes.
Impact-oriented programming is less tangible then evidence-informed programming, but basically it means that all decisions in programme development and execution are made with a continuous focus on the intended impact. For example, when deciding on the mix of interventions, the leading argument has to be that the chosen activities together make the most impact on our target group – even if this means it is more costly or requires adjustments throughout the programme. The decision on which partnerships and programmes to invest in should also be informed by their contribution to Simavi’s impact. Together, evidence-informed and impact-oriented programming help us to use our limited resources to maximise the impact we make on the lives of women and girls.
We are ambitious, but we also acknowledge that we sometimes have to take difficult decisions or admit that newly learned lessons cannot always be integrated directly into existing programmes. We are not yet building all our programmes on rigorous evidence, as it takes time and money to gather such evidence. We do invest in broader evidence reviews to inform future programmes. Due to our work in alliances and for other reasons, we are not always able to include our impact indicators and questions in evaluations of existing programmes. But, we are actively including these indicators in new programmes and where possible include questions that inform these indicators in our evaluations.
As mentioned above, working impact-oriented it is a journey and we are learning along the way.