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Reporting Project Performance

Throughout the implementation stage of the Program Cycle, Missions should assess the implications of any divergence between anticipated and unanticipated outcomes, and facilitate reflection, additional analytic work, and course correction. Project implementation should respond to what is learned, adapting project activities, revising work plans and, if necessary, modifying contracts, grants or other implementation modalities to ensure the achievement of project results. Information sharing and reporting both play a role in these processes.

The suite of policies USAID released in 2011 and 2012 calls for a sea change in the way the Agency engages in performance monitoring and evaluation. Greater openness to learning from experience, including failures, and to sharing what is being learned from performance monitoring and evaluations, in real time, with stakeholders ranging from partner governments to the front line field staff of implementing partners is recognized in USAID's Program Cycle Guidance, its Project Design Guidance and its Evaluation Policy as being as, if not more important than formal reporting, for enhancing aid effectiveness. Learning approach elements of CDCSs and Project Designs are expected to design the mechanisms needed to support the kind of communication that will make U.S. commitments made under the Paris Accords and Accra Agenda a reality at every programming level.

Monitor vertically

to detect weaknesses in the linkages from Inputs to Outputs to Purpose to Goal in a project. By waiting too long to start monitoring at the Purpose and Goal levels, a large program missed the fact that the people it had trained were going to work in the private sector rather than accepting lower paying jobs in ministry offices charged with speeding up the procurement process across government.

At a practical level, these precepts have numerous implications for how project teams think about performance reporting. At the most basic level, simple tables of the type routinely shared with Office and Mission management, elements of which will continue to be forwarded to USAID/Washington, will still be needed. This section of the kit includes an optional Project Performance Reporting Template that can be used for that purpose, or modified to incorporate sex disaggregated reporting as illustrated in a table from the USAID/Afghanistan Alternative Livelihoods Project on the Performance Targets page of this kit. USAID's Performance Management Toolkit also includes suggestions for reporting templates.

Beyond this, project teams will need to consider what types of performance information they will share with project implementing partners, recognizing that each partner in a USAID project as currently envisioned, is dependent on every other partner when it comes to achieving their shared Purpose and Goal. Whereas missions may have met separately with implementing partners in the past, some may now find it appropriate to meet jointly to review project performance, and to do so more frequently than may have been the norm when a project was something USAID contracted out rather than managed in-house and implemented with the assistance of multiple partners. In this context, meeting with partners to jointly analyze the implications of performance data could prove valuable.

When developing an MEL Plan section that discusses how a project team will share performance information; foster learning among a group of partners and stakeholders; and make tough decisions aimed at improving project performance, thinking beyond a standard Project Performance Reporting Template in ways that integrate the project's sharing and learning elements. For example, this section of an MEL Plan might consider:

  • Using graphics that compare planned and actual performance rather than, or in addition to a Project Performance Reporting Template for communicating performance data to partners.
  • Extracting the performance facts that are most important for improving the performance of front line field staff and presenting them separately, so they are not lost or ignored in forward planning discussions with partners.
  • Investing in vertical monitoring, through discussions or graphics like the one shown on the right — to draw attention to situations where being "on track" a the lower levels of a project does not mean that partners are succeeding.

Sharing responsibility for enhancing the tools used to communicate performance data among partners is also something USAID staff may wish to consider when preparing this section, as active involvement in developing communication tools is in and of itself a capacity building activity in an evidence and results-based management environment.