Activities are the basic workstreams of a project which are physically implemented according to an agreed timeline.
In media development projects, common activities include training workshops, programme production, website development, discussion forums, legal drafting, collective lobbying, networking and study tours.
Activities are quantifiable and time-bound. They are also fully costed.
The EU likes to see activities divided into so-called “work packages” which are essentially homogenous blocks of activity that can contribute to more than one objective.
Alternatively, activities may be grouped according to phases of an implementation cycle, running consecutively or concurrently.
Project authors are encouraged to recognise and document the factors that should be in place for a project to be viable.
According to the EU, the assumptions are
“factors outside the project management's control that may impact on the output-outcome linkage”.
These are likely to include environmental, political, social and economic issues. Assumptions are generally listed as part of the logframeorTheory of Change and need to be considered in concert with the risks for evaluation purposes.
A term used most commonly by the European Commission, backstopping refers to in-house project management resources which are deployed in support of any given project.
Usually based at the implementing organisation’s headquarters, the backstopping team supports the implementation team which, in most cases, is based in the field. It can comprise senior managers and executives as well as logistics officers, technical staff and finance personnel.
Typically, responsibilities include recruitment; strategic oversight; briefing, contracting and deploying short-term consultants; knowledge management; and partner liaison. The backstopping team deals with contractual issues, including agreements with consortium partners.
Often used inlogical frameworks or results frameworks, a baseline is the current value of an indicator that provides a measure of the situation before the project starts (it is likely to be 0 if the project is new).
It is, therefore, used to measure change and monitor progress over the project lifecycle and is often assembled in the opening phase.
Monitoring and evaluationprogrammes need a starting point, a baseline against which progress can be measured. Sometimes this data is available from third-party sources but, for the most part, baseline research needs to be bespoke and properly geared to the anticipatedresults andtargets of a programme.
In behavioural change communications, for example, the research may need to establish existing attitudes towards a target issue so that future waves of polling can establish whether or not these attitudes have changed as a result of the intervention.
An organisation’s capability statement provides the donor or potential partners with an insight into its main areas of expertise and recent track record as well as its human and technical resources.
It should be relatively short (no more than a page) and capture the salient features of the organisation’s core business.
Examples of past performance included in a capability statement should be succinct and should be carefully selected to illustrate the required areas of expertise.
It is worth remembering that, in all proposals, donors are looking for reassurances that a potential implementing partner has
The systems in place to manage contracts of a similar size and complexity;
A reputation for excellence, innovation and thought leadership in the target theme(s);
A sufficiently diverse portfolio that does not suggest over-reliance on one donor or funding source;
A deep understanding of the operating environment.
Thus, capability statements should be tailored for each bid.
Too often, funding applications are rejected because they are not “compliant” with the rules and criteria set out in the Terms of Reference or submission guidelines. Several donors run compliance checks before applications are presented to the evaluators or evaluation committee.
These checks will include:
the eligibility of the applicants (particularly nationality and legal status)
the amount of funding requested
the inclusion of signed declarations or commitments
Proposals which fail the compliance checks may be immediately rejected – although some donors may ask for supplementary information if they are unsure whether or not certain criteria have been met.
Applications which do not respect the submission deadline are automatically rejected and there is little or no value in contesting this outcome.
It is, therefore, vital to study the instructions in detail and draw up a checklist to make sure that you have covered all the bases. Do not assume that a specific donor’s guidelines are always the same – eligibility criteria, for example, can vary from one programme to another.
Donors encourage implementing agencies to recognise and avoid the dangers of exacerbating the tensions or deepening the fault-lines that exist in post-conflict societies.
This is a key risk for media development projects operating in such environments, especially those where media has traditionally played a key role in fanning the flames of resentment or distrust.
Conflict-sensitive projects should include an in-depth analysis of dividers and connectors in the conflict environment which will, in turn, help to shape the intervention strategy.
In broad terms, the strategy should consider ways of ensuring the proper inclusion of diverse stakeholder groups in all consultation processes; equitable participation in project activities; monitoring to capture changes in the operating environment; and the consideration of conflict-related issues in organisational practices (e.g. recruitment and security).
A contingency plan is an essential element of an adaptive management strategy, showing that there are viable ways of ensuring business continuity, even if threat levels are elevated.
A contingency plan should look at multiple scenarios whilst mainstreaming measures for safeguarding the project’s reputation and credibility.
These plans are live documents that should be reviewed and updated as a project unfolds.
While projects often comprise a set of linear or concurrent activity streams, there are likely to be elements that are relevant to multiple activities. Gender mainstreaming is a good example since a focus on the equality or empowerment of women stakeholders could be integral to a training programme and a production component that is part of the same project.
Generally speaking, cross-cutting elements should have their own indicators and targets and should, therefore, be measured and monitored as part of the wider MEL effort.
It is a product or service that the implementing agency has undertaken to deliver within a specified timeframe and for a specified budget.
Deliverables come as the result of a set ofactivitiesor a development process.
This focus area is primarily about offering proper access to project activities to those with disabilities as well as making efforts to overturn negative attitudes towards disabled people.
Donors will expect applicants to reference appropriate measures in project proposals and, where relevant, to disaggregate indicators in order to reflect the impact on key identity groups.
A dissemination plan relates to measures for sharing theoutputs of projects, be they items of media content, research findings or training materials.
Donors are looking for implementing agencies to demonstrate that they are achieving good value for moneyby making outputs as widely available as possible and working towards long-termsustainability by ensuring that key products are embraced or institutionalised by a range of stakeholders.
Do No Harm
Often confused with 'duty of care', Do No Harm policies focus on the interaction between a project and its operating environment.
“to avoid doing harm by ensuring that our interventions do not sustain unequal power relations, reinforce social exclusion and predatory institutions, exacerbate conflict, contribute to human rights risks, and/or create or exacerbate resource scarcity, climate change and/or environmental damage, and/or increasing communities’ vulnerabilities to shocks and trends. We seek to ensure our interventions do not displace/undermine local capacity or impose long-term financial burdens on partner governments”.
*Although DFID no longer exists, the document referenced here is yet to be superseded by anFCDOalternative.
Do No Harm policies should look at areas such as staff conduct, local ownership, inclusion, diversity, conflict sensitivity and mechanisms for dealing with complaints.
Duty of care
Both donors and implementing organisations have a duty to safeguard the individuals and institutions involved in development programmes.
This extends to contracted personnel, partner organisations and participants in project activities.
Duty of care plans should be equitable, offering similar levels of support to local as well as international stakeholders.
They cover issues such as risk assessment, physical security, digital security, safety training, knowledge management, emergency protocols, contingency plans and roles and responsibilities.
Contractors are often required to include a statement that they have a duty of care to informants, other programme stakeholders and their own staff, and that they will comply with ethical principles in all programme activities.
Adherence to this duty of care should be included in interim reporting.
Most funding programmes have strict eligibility criteria determining which organisations (or individuals) are able to apply for grants.
Typically, the criteria will include nationality (e.g. the country in which the organisation is registered) and legal status but they may also include requirements for applicants to demonstrate that they have delivered projects of a similar size, value and complexity in the recent past (often three years).
Donors do not make exceptions for eligibility criteria since they are fundamental to their commitment to fairness, openness and transparency. Consequently, they should be strictly adhered to.
This phase of research may include qualitative and/or quantitative elements, demonstrating the extent to which a programme has been successfulin meeting its declared targets and bringing about the desired change.
Credible endline research will need to target the same identity groups as the baseline research, although it will aim to differentiate between those who have been exposed to the programme outputs and those who have not.
Evaluation usually comprises objective quantitative and/or qualitative research aimed at ascertaining whether or not a project has met its declared targets (as established through indicators for success).
Examples include opinion polls or sectoral surveys as well as analysis of audience figures or online traffic.
Independent external evaluations may be included as part of a project’s proposed activitiesor commissioned by donors and funded from sources outside the project budget.
Final beneficiaries are a much larger group who benefit from the project’s outputs and are implicit in its outcomes.
The EU offers the following definition:
“those who will benefit from the action in the long term at the level of the society or sector at large”.
Two examples from media development projects:
Final beneficiaries will typically be specific audiences or representatives of identity groups targeted by programming.
Final beneficiaries can also be members of target groups who are not directly involved in the project (e.g. the wider media community).
Gender considerations are mainstreamed in the vast majority of donor-funded programmes but the desired approach is often misinterpreted.
Equality is not as simple as ensuring that groups of participants are properly balanced between men and women or that research efforts will ensure that 50% of respondents are women.
Inclusion is important but empowerment and decision-making are also key factors.
Donors also want to see proposals that break gender stereotypes by putting women in non-traditional roles and that promote equal opportunities in recruitment drives.
Indicators (of success)
Also called “objectively verifiable indicators” (OVIs), indicators provide donors with a yardstick for assessing the actual impact of a project. Indicators are usually linked to both outcomes and outputs and are, perhaps, most useful when they incorporate a numerical value (e.g. a percentage or a quantity).
According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office:
“Indicators are performance measures, which tell us what will be measured not what is to be achieved”.
They should be specific and relevant as well as being disaggregated where appropriate.
In media development projects, indicators of success will typically be linked to issues such as:
The reach of programming
Quantifiable shifts in attitudes or behaviour among both target groups and final beneficiaries
Evidence of take-up for project outputs, including the application of new skills to practice
Evidence of institutional change (e.g. adoption of policy or procedure)
Audience engagement levels
Inputs represent the starting point for a Theory of Change, generally covering the amount of money provided by the donor as well as the project management resources and expertise deployed by both the donor and the implementing agency.
It is usually described through the formulaic use of “if”, “then” and “therefore” and is a handy way of articulating the logical progression of an idea.
The intervention logic may also include a description of linkages and relationships between activity clusters.
Key Performance Indicators
KPIs generally relate to contract management rather than the results-level indicators which measure success across different workstreams or activity strands.
KPIs give donors the opportunity to assess how the implementing agency is performing in terms of meeting milestones, achieving high-quality standards and facilitating effective communications between stakeholders.
KPIs should be agreed upon at the beginning of a programme and mapped in progress reports. They may be revised if a project’s design and work plan undergo significant modifications due to unforeseen changes in the operating environment.
Typical KPIs include:
Quality and delivery, including timely achievement of milestones and effective risk management
Financial management and forecasting including cost controls and timely submission of forecasts and invoices
Personnel performance, including appropriate levels of expertise allocated to the programme and ability to address problems with appropriate escalation channels
Client relationship management, including responsiveness and the regularity of communications
Continuous improvement and innovation including the ability to maximise VfM and actively capture and incorporate lessons learned
Environmental and social safeguards including efforts to minimise the impact on the environment and a proactive policy of employing local staff wherever possible
Donors have shown a keen interest in proper knowledge management in recent years. The aim is to capture learning generated by a project and to share it with stakeholders, both internally and externally.
Effective knowledge management can play an important role in ensuring that good practice models are made available to other actors operating in the same field while also giving media development organisations the chance to avoid common mistakes or misconceptions.
Another key aspect of knowledge management within projects is the ability to ensure business continuity during changes in personnel or partnerships.
The problem with knowledge management is that it rarely takes place outside the confines of specific programmes or organisations and is often enacted on closed platforms only. There are also issues of data protection and other sensitivities that make it problematic.
What was once M&E is now often termed MEL, underlining the increasing emphasis on introducing mechanisms to learn from the findings of monitoring andevaluation work.
As noted above (under “Monitoring”), the value of examining lessons learned throughout a project is that this enables implementing organisations to align planned activitiesas closely as possible to the perceived needs and interests of stakeholders. This ensures that projects are properly adaptive, evolving over time.
Another key aspect of learning is the management of this knowledge, disseminating lessons learned to partners and other stakeholders, thereby bringing benefits on an institutional as well as a project level.
It offers project evaluators the opportunity to stress-test a project design by assessing the extent to which outcomes are realistic and the extent to which progress towards these outcomes can be measured. A logframe also provides project managers with a tool formonitoring progress and, potentially, for ensuring timely course-correction.
Donors tend to use different templates for logframes and some have abandoned them in favour of Theory of Change charts but they still represent the most common framework for project design, acting as a starting point for developing project ideas and also as a way of ensuring that partners and contributors have a shared vision of the programme.
Most donors accept that logframes are dynamic documents that should be revisited and updated as a project unfolds.
Implementing organisations should not be afraid to renegotiate proposed targets in order to properly manage expectations among key stakeholders.
The term “margin” is most often used in relation to fee-based contracts and is effectively the difference between the actual costs of deployment and the agreed rate.
For example, if the daily rate for an expert is €800 but the expert charges €500 per day, then the margin would be €300. Contractors use the margin or “profit” to cover their management and operating expenses.
In EU service contracts, there is no obligation to account for how the margin is spent.
Also termed the “approach”, the methodology comprises the techniques and methods which will be employed by the project in order to deliver against its programmatic commitments.
In particular, a description of a project’s methodology should include a discussion of the sequencing of activities and the inter-relationship between them.
It should also explain why certain techniques have been selected.
For example, when presenting the merits of on-the-job mentoring as the chosen approach for a capacity-building programme, a grant applicant might explain that mentoring can be more effective than classroom-based training because the learning-by-doing approach ensures that relevant skills are passed on in a practical work environment.
Research conducted at the midway point helps to determine the extent to which programming is having the desired impact and gives implementing organisations the chance to modify their approach and strategy if the results suggest otherwise.
In some programmes, effective monitoring work may take the place of midline research, providing insight into audience response or take-up on a rolling basis.
Defined as the “desired trajectory from baseline to target”, milestones are used to help track progress across a period of time.
They give managers the opportunity to revise or modify activitiesin those cases where milestones indicate that targets are not being met.
While monitoring, evaluationand learning(MEL) are often grouped together, they represent different stages in an ongoing linear effort to assess the impact of a project.
Monitoring is a regular activity that generates insights into a project’s progress and allows implementing agencies to learn from stakeholder feedback and, where necessary, recalibrate activities in line with this feedback.
Monitoring tools are often qualitative and might include focus groups, self-assessment questionnaires or key informant interviews.
A good example is social media listening aimed at capturing the audience’s response to content and audience engagement levels on key platforms.
Projects often enjoy resonance outside the parameters of the logical framework, bringing additional benefits to other target groups or stakeholders.
This may be planned or unplanned but it is an important element of project reporting since multiplier effects offer donors value for money as well as a good insight into the wider impact and potential extension.
A good example of a multiplier or ripple effect is trained professionals imparting new skills to colleagues in the workplace.
According to the EU, an outcome is
“the likely or achieved short-term and medium-term effects of an Action’s outputs”.
The UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office defines it as
“the effect of the project which will be obtained at medium term and which tends to focus on the changes in behaviour resulting from project”.
Outcomes should be achievable within the project lifecycle and progress towards them should be measurable.
They should capture the resonance of activities and outputs that is felt outside the project’s primary arena.
So, in the case of a journalism training programme, for example, the outcome is not the acquisition of skills but rather the result of applying these skills to practice.
In a project that produces media content, the outcome is not the volume or reach of the content but rather its effect on the audience, its ability to shape or influence public opinion.
Outputs are defined as the direct/tangible products, goods and services which are delivered by a project.
In media development projects, outputs include tangible deliverables such as programming, publications and training materials as well as intangible benefits such as skills and know-how acquired by participants.
Outakes are the actions taken by audiences in response to communications products. Examples include social media engagement, sharing and comments.
They can be used to measure shifts in behaviour and attitudes among target audiences.
Sometimes referred to as a super-goal, the project’s overall objective is a long-term programmatic aspiration that will stem from a combination of the project’s outcomes and those delivered by other interventions or processes.
In other words, the overall objective does not need to be achievable by the given project alone: long-term success will rely on progress being made across multiple strands of work, including the project.
Success will also be dependent on a number of external factors and influences.
The overall objective is sometimes presented as an impact statement which, according to DFID* guidance:
“may be nested within broader undertakings and may draw on the wider goals of a funder’s programme”.
*Although DFID no longer exists, the document referenced here is yet to be superseded by anFCDOalternative.
Implementing organisations are encouraged to describe the measures which will be taken by both the backstoppingand implementing teams to ensure high-quality standards across the project lifecycle.
These measures should be managed by named personnel who have a responsibility for ensuring that KPIs are met and that outputs are consistent. Various QA standards exist (e.g. IS0 9001), providing a tried-and-tested framework for project managers to use.
Although often treated in the same section of a grant application, replication and multiplier effects have different connotations.
Outputs that are replicated are adopted by other stakeholders outside the project’s immediate remit.
Examples might include a programme format or a business model which is developed in collaboration within one media outlet and which is then embraced by others.
The terms “results” and “outcomes” are interchangeable.
The European Commission encourages contractors to apply a rights-based approach to all interventions.
This comprises a commitment to ensuring that human rights issues (economic, political, civil, cultural and social) are properly assessed, monitored and evaluated in all programmes.
According to this methodology, programme strategies should build the capacities of citizens to claim their human rights and of duty-bearers to fulfil their obligations to respect human rights.
Donors and implementing agencies should also ensure that rights-holders are given the opportunity to shape project strategies. This participation should prioritise marginalised groups.
Finally, activities should “promote accessible, transparent and effective mechanisms of accountability”, including providing proper access to information in local languages.
In general, the rights-based approach offers a range of best-practice models which can help to shape intervention methodologies and promote local ownership.
Risk matrix/risk analysis
A robust and comprehensive risk matrix helps to reassure a potential donor that the project authors are fully aware of any factors or threats which might derail proposed activities or compromise the project’s ability to achieve its declared goals.
There are multiple formats for risk matrices but most divide risks into generic categories such as political, programmatic, reputational, economic, fiduciary and security-related risks.
The likelihood and potential impact of risks should be assessed, sometimes using a points-based system, thereby demonstrating the extent to which these risks can be managed and mitigated.
This area has much in common with 'duty of care' but generally relates to measures that are put in place to protect vulnerable groups from any negative consequences of being involved in development programmes.
Good examples include protections for women from conservative societies who are invited to take part in research studies or training opportunities.
Safeguarding policies may also cover the protection of data relating to individuals involved in activities that may be negatively viewed by informal power structures, peers or family members.
The security plan should address digital and information security as well as personal risk and external threats to business continuity.
It should describe the measures in place to protect project personnel from external threats and to extricate them from dangerous situations.
For projects with an in-country presence, other areas to be considered might include
due diligence when selecting premises for group activities (e.g. training);
safe transport for staff and participants; protective equipment for hostile environments;
and secure communications.
Ensuring the integrity of data is also key, therefore IT security measures need to be fully outlined.
SMART principles offer a useful framework for establishing and stress-testing project objectives.
SMART is an acronym that is usually taken to stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound (although the “R” is sometimes given as “realistic”).
In a funding application, it can be helpful to use SMART principles to structure the discussion of your objectives. The bullet points below provide some pointers:
Specific: state what the objective means in real terms, whom it will affect and how.
Measurable: explain the metrics and mechanisms that will be used to chart progress towards the objective, using key indicators of success.
Achievable: consider the assets, resources and methodologies that you will deploy in order to achieve the declared objective.
Relevant: provide a brief insight into why this goal is necessary and how it responds to perceived needs within the given sector/theme.
Time-bound: offer an indication of the timeframe required to deliver the activities that will enable you to work towards the objective.
An application's specific objectives should be achievable in the proposed timeframe but this will ultimately rely on outcometargets being met and on key assumptions being justified.
Objectives are strategic and are likely to be long-term aspirations (as opposed to outcomes that are short- and medium-term).
Progress towards the specific objectives will be assessed at key junctures along the project lifecycle but objectives do not offer an end-state in the same way as outcomes; instead they present a pathway to success.
Source verification is a means of objectively assessing whether or not targets have been attained.
These sources can be external to the project (e.g. third-party reports focusing on related issues) or part of the monitoring and evaluationprogramme (e.g. survey results, the findings of focus group discussions, transcripts of key informant interviews, self-assessment questionnaires etc).
The sources should allow an external evaluator to see a direct link between project activities and anticipatedoutcomes.
It is good practice to state the frequency of data sources and ensure that they are consistent with milestones andtargets.
Some logframesalso include a requirement to specify who will take responsibility for collecting the data and how often.
The quality of external (third-party) sources should be assessed by interrogating the methodologiesused and considering their scope.
The term is much abused and often misinterpreted.
EU applications ask for a treatment of sustainability under specific topic headings: institutional, policy, financial and environmental which give some insight into the areas in which a level of sustainability can be achieved.
Fundamentally, a discussion of sustainability should look at
(a) how core activities can be continued after the end of grant funding or
For example, a journalism training programme could be deemed “sustainable” if its syllabus or learning aids were later adopted by a local centre offering professional training courses to journalists.
Equally, the sustainability of a TV programme might be assured if it were to be commissioned by a local TV channel at the end of the project.
Implementing agencies are encouraged to seek synergies with other organisations working in the same field, thereby ensuring that resources can be pooled where possible and that duplication of efforts can be avoided.
The identification of synergies is a vital aspect of effective coordination within a development community that relies on multiple grants from multiple sources and that does not necessarily operate according to a regional or national strategy.
Targets show what is achievable over the agreed lifecycle and, therefore, they are generally set for the closing stages of the project.
They are generally informed by evidence from previous interventions and should be as realistic as possible, taking into account context, external influences and assumptions.
It is a mistake to be overly ambitious, since this may later lead to a perception that the project has overpromised and underachieved.
Targets should be disaggregated where possible.
Target groups are the stakeholders who benefit directly from activities envisaged in the project work-plan.
They are, according to the EU:
“groups/entities who will directly benefit from the action at the action purpose level”.
The target group of a journalism training programme would be the individuals who are eligible to attend the courses.
The target group of a legal reform programme would be the law-makers and other interlocutors who are directly involved in developing the new legislation and who will be asked to implement it.
Target groups are often quantifiable and, in some cases, may be very small.
A tender is a competitive procurement process whereby a donor gives shortlisted applicants (often working in consortia) the chance to make a technical and financial offer for a predefined set of services. These services are described in detail in the Terms of Reference for the tender.
Effectively, applicants need to demonstrate that they have the resources, experience and methodologies needed to achieve the project’s goals as well as a deep understanding of the operating environment and context in which the project will unfold.
The financial offer should also be competitive but this is not simply a question of undercutting the rival consortia. Usually, the scoring matrix is weighted in favour of the technical offer, so a very strong proposal can win a tender, even if the financial offer is not the lowest of those submitted.
For EU tenders, the common wisdom is that bidders should put in a price that is between 8% and 12% lower than the maximum budget allowed. However, there are plenty of examples of successful bids that have sailed much closer to the wind.
Theory of Change
A Theory of Change makes the link between what a project actually does and the impact that it hopes to deliver.
It does this by identifying the long-term goals, then working back to identify theoutcomes and outputswhich need to be in place for these goals to be achieved. The desired outputs provide the basis for identifying the most effective type of activity.
A Theory of Change can be developed for any level of intervention – an event, a project, a programme, a policy, a strategy or an organisation. It leads to improved evaluation since progress towards the long-term goals can be measured through the results chain.
A Theory of Change is often presented as a graphic that comprises a series of boxes from inputs to outputs to outcomes and, finally, to impact. It thus provides a more visual perception of a project’s raison d’être than a logical framework.
Value for money
Several donors require a discussion of value for money (VfM) in project proposals, thereby assessing how implementing organisations will ensure funds are properly managed and achieve the optimum return on investment.
According to DFID*:
“The purpose of VfM is to develop a better understanding and better articulation of costs and results so that we can make more informed, evidence-based choices.”
UK government donors recommend that VfM is considered in four key areas: economy, efficiency, effectiveness and equity. These markers demonstrate how costs will be kept to an acceptable level but also how funds will be fairly distributed with a focus on proper inclusion.
VfM approaches should include a process of continuous improvement and an agreed set of VfM indicators should be monitored on a regular basis, then presented in interim reports and annual reviews.
*Although DFID no longer exists, the document referenced here is yet to be superseded by an FCDO alternative.
The requirement for projects to be “visible” and, in particular, to acknowledge the source of their funding in external communications varies from programme to programme and is often modulated according to local sensitivities and security concerns in the target country (or region).
As a rule, donors want the funding source to be recognised and will make exceptions only when this might compromise the safety of implementing organisations and beneficiaries.
Major funders such as the EU have an extensive set of guidelines relating to the presentation of their emblem and the phraseology of the acknowledgement.
Some also seek to determine the positioning of the implementing organisation’s branding in relation to their own.
For larger programmes, issues of visibility need to be addressed in a communications plan which details the platforms and measures which will be taken in order to promote the project and share its outputs.