This is the headline for a story on the Guardian katine blog, where Annie Kelly discusses a report that “criticises donors, governments and NGOs for installing boreholes and wells in rural Africa without ensuring their long-term sustainability”

Four comments have been made so far, including one by AMREF and myself.

AMREF pointed out that ” In 2002, AMREF helped communities in the Kathonzweni area to develop 50 shallow wells…By 2007 — five years later, and several years after the projects end — the communities had maintained the existing wells and built 20 new ones.”

This sounds very good, almost too good.

My comment was that “It would be useful if AMREF could provide (on this Guardian website) some information on (a) how they are monitoring the functioning of the wells they have helped to establish in Katine so far, and (b) the data that has been collected. Hopefully information is available on both the functioning of the wells and the functioning of the management committees responsible for each well.

There are problems with wells in Katine, like just about everywhere else. This is to be expected. Equipment does get damaged and worn. What matters more is how long those problems remain unresolved.

There will be a mid-term review of the Katine project in a few months time, which could look at the functioning of the wells then. But that would be a once-off inquiry and the risk is that (as elsewhere) extra efforts might be made to make sure things are working well at that time. Its the monitoring that matters.

regards, rick davies, external evaluator for Katine”

This was the headline on the Guardian katine website, on Tuesday 24th March 2009.  Eliza Anyangwe asked “Are short-term development projects like Katine a good idea? The Katine project in Uganda is scheduled to last for three years. But with such a short timescale can it deliver lasting change, or will it leave a bitter aftertaste?”

There were 12 comments including mine, which ran as follows:

“I have been working for aid organisations for about 28 years, and doing monitoring and evaluation of aid projects for about 19 years. Throughout this time most people I have spoken to who have been associated with aid projects have expressed the view that 3 years is not long enough to make a substantial and sustainable development impact. Especially if you are trying improve the way in which government services work. Many of the comments above seem to share this view.

In the case of the Katine project, AMREF have expressed the view that ” the Katine project really will contribute to lasting change in one of Ugandas poorest and most vulnerable regions”. The Guardian editor also seems to share this view. Are they right? Lets try to test those views.

I have already proposed to the Guardian and AMREF that at the end of the three year period AMREF, and its local partners, should make a number of testable predictions about what things will look like in Katine, in another three years time. That is six years after the project started and three years after it ended. Then the Guardian, or perhaps some more independent organisation (with no prior involvement in Katine), should fund what is called an “ex-post evaluation” team to come in and see how many of the predictions were successful, and how many have failed. And equally importantly, why some were successful and others not so. Then let those results be shared and discussed in Katine and elsewhere via the Guardian blog.

regards, rick davies, external evaluator for the Katine (KCPP) project

PS: The problem with this proposal is the uncertainty about who will be around, six years after the start of the Katine project. Will any of the Guardian journalists now engaged with the project be around and interested to see what has happened, or will they have moved on? Will any of the key people in AMREF still be around and interested, or will they have moved on? The big question seems to be how do aid (and other) organisations develop and maintain a longer term view on what they are doing at any one time.