EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributions to the this article were made by a chief of party with more than 17 years of experience managing teams to implement complex civil society and local governance programs for USAID in the Middle East and North Africa.
Few challenges are greater than working in Syria today. In its fifth year of conflict, much of the country’s infrastructure lies in wreckage and the people are in desperate need of resources and support. But monitoring and evaluating the delivery of such supplies is a complex and challenging process. A closer look at this process from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives reveals that identifying trusted local partners and implementing multiple layers of verification are key to getting people the supplies they need to survive.
OTI ships significant amounts of equipment to Syria, including trucks, which support community led projects like a sanitation campaign. Monitoring and evaluating the impact of such a campaign is further complicated by transshipment, which is the movement of goods to a series of intermediate destinations, often facing hostile border crossings and banditry, on the way to the final destination.
Once the route is identified, local staff are positioned to support different layers of the logistics that include monitoring the transshipment over the border, accompanying the goods through checkpoints and around areas of open battles, to finally reach the targeted destination.
Close communication between different layers along the transshipment is essential in anticipating problems, allowing for the use of alternative routes, or storing equipment in route if risks suddenly appear in the rapidly changing landscape.
Another important consideration is selecting equipment that can be maintained locally. In the midst of conflict, commerce slows and there is generally a shortage of equipment parts available in the local market. Engineers with knowledge of markets at the point of delivery help select equipment based on brands commonly used in the local market of the targeted community. This ensures spare parts can be more easily sourced for equipment maintenance.
Once shipped goods reach their destination, a critical phase is complete.
The next steps need to verify that local partners are using goods for the project’s intended purposes and, most importantly, that the intended results are being achieved. As the project is being designed, agreements with partners should require photographic evidence and written reports about the use of the resources. When it’s not too sensitive, partners are often required to post photos and videos and share on social media so that staff far from the field can verify the implementation of projects.
Another important layer of verifiability is to use third-party monitors who are independent of the local managers of the project. These third-party monitors conduct site visits to examine whether materials and equipment are being used for their intended purposes and have not been diverted for personal gain or for the benefit of the many extremist and armed groups present in Syria.
Evaluating the impact of the project is the next important step. Independent monitors and stakeholders each play a role surveying local residents to collect qualitative data, which is supplemented by large-scale surveys that track changes in attitudes and perceptions.
Multiple layers of data help identify trends, which may indicate whether project activities are achieving results or whether future projects should be redesigned or retargeted to be more effective.
In a rapidly changing conflict environment there is no foolproof monitoring and evaluation system.
However, the information from local partners, stakeholders and independent monitors creates multiple layers of verification that paints a clearer picture of what is happening in the field. This information helps us better account for resources to ensure they are used in the best possible way to benefit the Syrian people who are in desperate need of assistance.