British Non-profit Works to Improve Governance in Africa; Uses Surveys to run Quarterly Pulsecheck

AGI

For non-profits in the United Kingdom, one word has dominated the agenda over the last two years: results. With budgets being tightened, funders in the public and philanthropic sector rightly expect their grantees to focus on maximising their impact. For a new organization like the Africa Governance Initiative, that’s meant looking for new ways to keep track of how we are doing and SurveyMonkey has played a key role in this.

The Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) was set up four years ago by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to help improve governance in Africa by supporting leading reformers in implementing their vision for their countries. Having grown rapidly we now have projects in Malawi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and South Sudan, with new countries on the horizon. Tony Blair draws on his ten years as Prime Minister to offer the leaders we work with the kind of advice on reform that only someone who has stood in a leader’s shoes can give. Our teams, based permanently in each country, work shoulder-to-shoulder with their government counterparts to put in place the “nuts and bolts” needed to get things done.

At AGI, we spend a lot our time helping leaders to define their policy priorities and then put in place the systems they need to figure out whether they are on track. Whether it’s a fertilizer program to boost the productivity of small farmers or abolishing user fees to make healthcare affordable for pregnant women, we help our governments develop the capacity to monitor progress and take action when things go off track.

If we are to be credible, we believe that when it comes to our own organizational performance we have to practise what we preach – and that’s where SurveyMonkey comes in. From the very start, we have been interested in how to develop a robust internal monitoring and evaluation system that allows to measure how we’re doing, learn from our successes and failures and deliver the best possible impact for our funders and our partner governments. Like many non-profits, there’s no one bottom line but rather a set of different sources of feedback and evidence that we need to be systematically gathering and learning from. And a critical component of that is the views of our staff on the ground:  working shoulder-to-shoulder with their counterparts in ministries from Monrovia to Kigali, their perspective on how we’re doing is invaluable. Equally, when our product is our people, we need to ensure they are feeling focused, motivated and well-managed if we’re to maximise our impact as an organisation.  That’s why with the help of SurveyMonkey we set up what we call the “AGI Pulsecheck.”

The Pulsecheck is a quarterly survey of all our staff in Africa. It asks them about their views of the progress of the project in their country and their work in particular, how confident they are feeling that the changes they are helping our partners to make will stick, and what impact they think it is having. It then digs a little deeper into their assessment of whether the conditions for change in their area exist. Finally it asks about their motivation, morale and work-life balance. The numbers sit alongside the other data and evidence we collect each quarter, including feedback from our counterparts and scoring against various quantitative performance indicators, to give a rounded picture of how things are going and areas that need attention.

Four factors shaped our choice of SurveyMonkey. With staff spread across a number of Africa countries, an online solution was the obvious way to reduce the administrative cost and burden of collecting the survey. As a non-profit with a limited budget, it needed to be cost effective. With internet connection speeds as low as 0.5kbps or less, we needed a platform that could cope in very low bandwidth environments. Finally, because narratives are an important element of the data we collect, we wanted the flexibility to ask a mixture of different question types including more open-ended questions. SurveyMonkey scored the highest of all the options we looked at on all four fronts.

The system has now been up and running for the last year and has had a big impact on how we learn about the progress of our work.  For example, we’ve used it as an easy way for staff to generate stories of change as part of an evaluation methodology called Most Significant Change (MSC). Each quarter, as part of the Pulsecheck process, we ask staff to think about examples of where AGI has made a critical contribution to a real-world change that they have seen within our projects. It might be that a tracking tool we helped to implement allowed the Government to spot a delay in getting life-saving drugs through the port. Or perhaps a young professional we have helped to coach and train made a decision that allowed the government to get a better deal in a negotiation with a big multinational. These examples are then collated and prioritized, with the best ones used as case studies both for our internal use but also as part of the evidence assessed by our external evaluators.

With the system well embedded, we are now starting to explore further ways we can use the site, including using it as a way to gather feedback from our government counterparts.

As a new and expanding organization, SurveyMonkey serves as a bridge, ensuring that the perspectives of staff who are thousands of miles away from each other are still shared and understood.

Click here to learn more about the Africa Governance Initiative.

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