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Development with passion August 14th, 2016 by

Project evaluations are often regarded as a necessary evil. Sponsors demand them. The project staff fear them. And hardly anyone outside the actual project wants to read them. Evaluations rarely capture people’s experiences or allow them to freely express what they enjoyed, what they struggled with and what ideas they dream to implement in the future. But stories about personal experiences let the reader understand what was meaningful about a project. So last week, my colleagues published a book called A Passion for Video, with 25 stories about the ups and downs of filming and using videos for farmers.

A project evaluation is often seen as an objective assessment to determine how closely a project met its objectives. This narrow (yet common interpretation of evaluation stems from the preconceived idea that development can be planned: when a project proposal is written, it is anticipated that all activities can be planned beforehand and that all outcomes are so predictable they can be neatly checked off a list.

But planning and evaluating are tricky with an initiative that pursues intangible goals, such as fostering learning and innovation with rural communities across developing countries, through many kinds of extension service providers, ranging from university students, to international researchers, to radio broadcasters and grassroots extensionists.

DSCN1680When the international NGO Access Agriculture ran a global survey on the relevance of training videos to development organisations and agricultural universities, the results were revealing. Many of the nearly 1000 respondents were not actual partners of the NGO, yet, they were using the training videos hosted by Access Agriculture in a big way.

The 1000 respondents (along with their organisations and partners) had shown the Access Agriculture videos to over 800,000 farmers. At least 42 million people had watched programmes on TV, or listened to radio broadcasts using the audio tracks from the videos (which are available separately to download). All this happened without Access Agriculture paying any money for anyone to screen or broadcast the videos. To download the summary report of the survey, click here.

Front_cover_FINAL_A_passion_for_videoIn November 2015, Jeff Bentley and Eric Boa worked with facilitators from ICRA and CTA in a two-day writeshop with some 40 people from Africa and Asia, helping to turn their experiences with video into short, written stories. The stories are captured in A Passion for Video, which celebrates the creativity of the many organisations involved in making, translating, distributing, and screening videos.

In these stories we learn how to reach far-flung villages in Ghana on a motorized trycicle, how to inspire farmers while picking one’s way through the Egyptian bureaucracy, and how to make a video with colleagues we love and need (even if we have to cut them out of the final video). We also meet many other engaging personalities, including a villager in Benin who has to deal with neighbors who want to borrow his precious DVD of videos.

Development organisations and donors do have a lot to gain by learning from people’s personal struggles to overcome hurdles along the way; a project is not just about achievements, it is also about finding one’s way around obstacles.

Development projects will benefit a lot from more flexibity in project planning and in listening to what people on the ground really experienced. Too much planning stiffles creativity and rigid, number-crunching evaluation kills passion. And in the end, the readers want more stories about how things really went.

Suggested reading

Bentley, J., Boa, E. and Salm, M. 2016. A Passion for Video. 25 stories about making, translating, sharing and using videos on farmer innovation. Access Agriculture, Nairobi and CTA, Wageningen, 56 pp. Download the story book here.

Suggested viewing

You can watch or even download all of the videos mentioned in the story book here (and it’s free) at www.accessagriculture.org

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