A community health worker conducts a survey for a project run by BRAC in Bangladesh. What is a logframe and does it help or hurt development goals? Lucy Milmo / DfID / CC BY

The logical framework — or “logframe” — approach to planning, monitoring and evaluation of development programs is gaining traction among the international aid community, but does this system truly work for beneficiaries?

At last week’s Bond Annual Conference in London, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition Chair Jay Naidoo sparked the debate when he suggested delegates challenge the use of this management tool, which he said contributes to failure despite its use by top donors like the U.K. Department for International Development.

Logframes, Naidoo argued, encourage development professionals to lose sight of true development goals. Citing the recent example of Ebola, he questioned why health systems in affected countries were too weak to cope with the epidemic in West Africa.

“We have not invested in health systems because we want projects and deliverables,” he said. “We want logframes that measure how many lives have been saved. We’re seeing increased political instability because some wise guys have decided the focus of global health has to be on these logframes.”

Naidoo also criticized consultants that offer project evaluation services for high fees, using their impact on a small nongovernmental organization in Malawi as a case study that demonstrates how logframes don’t deliver value-for-money in his opinion.

“[Following] the [global economic] crisis in 2008, they found this was a nice place to go and get a career. And each one of them has to bring in justification of why they were employed — so they bring in this sophisticated thing that even global corporates struggle with,” he explained. “They tell the NGO in Malawi — you’ve got to follow this logframe. You end up that 60 percent of the work of this NGO is writing reports which are irrelevant to the people they are supposed to be serving.”

No better alternative

While many delegates seemed to agree with Naidoo, several others told Devex on the sidelines of the conference in London that they backed the use of logframes. Among the latter was Dylan Winder, DfID head of Humanitarian Policy and Systems, who noted that organizations should able to “measure performance so we’re able to look at whether the programs are on track and demonstrate impact.”

He added that he would be open to using different tools, but knew of none better than logframes.

“I was in DfID when they were introduced, which was quite a while ago, and we’ve not seen a better thing even when we’ve changed our internal program to business cases,” he said. “We’ve still got a logframe because it’s a simple reference that tells you exactly what the project’s going to achieve, and holds us to account as well as the people who are delivering.”

Jyotsna Puri, deputy executive director of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, pointed out that logframes are only as good as the people using them.

“They’re a great communication tool across diverse teams who are speaking different languages and especially for multidisciplinary teams,” she said. “They also are a good way to understand everyone’s expectations. I don’t think they are all-encompassing, but they can lend themselves pretty flexibly to a wide range of results.”

Puri suggested people who didn’t see value in logframes failed to recognize they could be constructed creatively to include “causal pathways” and “theories of change,” which she mentioned “could definitely be an alternative way of looking at it, but you can use the same sort of underlying theory and cast it in, say, a matrix and then it will be a logframe.”

Not every logframe result should be for the beneficiary, according to International Rescue Committee Emergency Field Director Sanjayan Srikanthan.

“Informing ourselves is an essential pillar of making sure we’re accurately representing the needs of beneficiaries,” he said, giving the example of a scheme in Lebanon where households were given cash to purchase heating through the winter. The majority of recipients, however, spent the money on food.

Srikanthan said this finding — which showed the organization was wrong to assume heating was the main concern for the beneficiaries — was revealed through a project evaluation.

“That was information which perhaps you might say beneficiaries knew, so we did this expensive evaluation for our benefit,” he admitted. “But it did inform a better response for ourselves.”

Srikanthan added that communities and individuals tended to monitor different aspects of a project. For instance, he explained, Ebola-affected communities in Liberia are now monitoring their well-being, while development organizations are trying to track “the number of cases so that it doesn’t spread and we don’t have to spend more money trying to put it out.”

“People will find solutions in the absence of ones where we don’t involve them in that decision-making process,” he said.

Judith Rander, co-founder and executive director of Development Initiatives and the World Humanitarian Summit, weighed in arguing that development professionals should make evaluation, feedback and monitoring more relevant to beneficiaries.

“We need to be much more oriented towards listening to what people say regardless of whether it falls into our categories of analysis,” she suggested. “It’s not easy, but that’s something we can do.”

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About the author

  • Gabriella Jóźwiak

    Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning journalist based in London. Her work on issues and policies affecting children and young people in developing countries and the U.K. has been published in national newspapers and magazines. Having worked in-house for domestic and international development charities, Jóźwiak has a keen interest in organizational development, and has worked as a journalist in several countries across West Africa and South America.