Saturday, January 30, 2016

Best Practices in Identifying and Working with women-headed and other vulnerable families

As resources for development projects continue to shrink, deciding how to best use your limited
funds has become essential. One way to do this is to develop a criterion that determines who is going to benefit from your project. This exercise - called ‘targeting’ in development jargon – can help you ensure that the benefits of a development project are captured by those families that need them the most.

While the nature of your project defines who to target, us working in development tend to focus our efforts on the “very poor”. One again, we wouldn’t say that in a proposal, instead referring to these families as ‘vulnerable’, ‘food-insecure household (HHs)’, ‘resource-constrained’, ‘neglected HH’ etc. Regardless of how you call them, these are people – often farmers – that don’t have enough capacity or money to cover their basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc.).  Knowing their desires and aspirations, and involving them – in a meaningful way - in the design of your activities is key to quality programming and accountability.

There is little disagreement in development circles about the need to target those ‘most vulnerable’ families. More challenging is developing a criterion and the metrics to identify people in this group and measure the progress of your efforts in improving their lives. In other words, knowing which families could participate in your new activity about better barley planting techniques.

One of the benefits of being in based in the field – as opposed to DC, Geneva, or NY – is that you see firsthand how effective targeting can determine the fate of your program. In the past two years, I have accumulated a list of tips and suggestions on how to select and work with those families needing the most support.

Caveat: this is not an exhaustive list and I cannot take credit for most of the points below. In fact, many are core tenets of Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRA) techniques and similar approaches to program quality. Instead, this is an effort to share my own experience in putting those techniques and approaches into practices. 

  • Triangulate information: When identifying vulnerable HHs, don’t rely solely on the information from the local community association or group. Walk around the village and ask individuals which are the most vulnerable families in the community (a Snowball technique helps do that). These are often located in marginalized areas of the village. 
  • Use survey data: Ask local government agencies, other NGOs, or even your colleagues who may have worked in that community before, to give you the list of the most vulnerable HHs. Use it when analyzing your own findings. 
  • Tailor project activities: Once identified, think about the project activities that are relevant to the situation of those vulnerable families and work with them when setting up demonstrations. Remember that these families often lack surplus labor/resources to spare, so be creative in the way you engage them. 
  • Ensure group participation: The poorest of the poor are often neglected from social activities. In project groups (NRM, WASH, livestock groups etc.), ensure that vulnerable HHs are well-represented and participate actively in these platforms by promoting their involvement.
  • Prioritize women-headed HH: Women-headed HHs are most likely to be food-insecure as they lack assets and labor to produce and trade enough products. Prioritize these HHs in your activities when relevant.  
  • Identify and support early adopters: Find individuals from vulnerable HHs that understand the messages/practices well, and work with them to help the project disseminate the messages/practices to other HHs. 
  • Work with both male and female: When working with women from these HHs, also try to incorporate men in the project activities. Ensuring that both men and women understand the key messages/practices increase the chances of behavior change. 
  • “Seeing is believing”: Rely on ‘exposure visits’ and similar activities to persuade vulnerable HHs about the benefits of the messages/practices being promoted.
  • Rely on pictorial information and practical exercises: The literacy levels of vulnerable HHs are often very low. Thus, when conducting training, use pictures, posters, didactic materials and hands-on exercises to promote messages/practices. 
  • Always be on the look for new vulnerable families: Remember that ‘vulnerability’ is not static – there may be HHs in a community that becomes very vulnerable after a tragic event (sickness or death of family members, harvest fail, disease outbreak, etc.). Always be on the lookout for new vulnerable HHs needing critical support. 

Did is miss anything? Let me know.