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    Peer Reviewed

    When do communities know best? UNICEF's search for relevant social indicators in Zimbabwe.

    Kararach G

    Development in Practice. 2004 Jun; 14(4):569-573.

    Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are needed by all development interventions in order to document their output and outcomes. Once a set of goals has been established in response to a development ‘problem’, a corresponding set of indicators (i.e. variables or information) will also be identified in order to review progress towards those goals. In Africa, the so-called ‘expert’ evaluators—those who see M&E as their professional calling—have dominated the process of selecting social indicators. Unfortunately, this domination has given rise to sporadic and unreliable social data for M&E purposes facing every agency involved in development work in Africa. Zimbabwe is no exception. This Practical Note tells the story of UNICEF Zimbabwe’s search for relevant and reliable indicators based on solid data. The guiding philosophy in this effort is the belief that local communities themselves are among the many agencies involved in implementing development programmes—in the sense that they always seek ways of tackling whatever problems they face. These communities must therefore be active participants in the process of selecting indicators. The paper will first discuss the difficulty in establishing relevant data and indicators in the context of Zimbabwe, a task which is now an urgent priority given the dual problems of HIV/ AIDS and a declining economy. It is generally believed that these two problems have been responsible for the reversal of social gains made immediately after independence—hence the need to know exactly what is going on. The paper will then highlight recent attempts by UNICEF Zimbabwe—together with its partners—to establish good and reliable information sources so that not only can it monitor and evaluate the various impacts of its programmes but also the social environment of children. In part, the pressure for community-generated indicators has also been driven by the shift in UNICEF’s approach to its work—an approach underpinned by human rights principles. The final part of the paper discusses the challenges that UNICEF and its partners have faced and continue to struggle with. It draws some lessons learned and points to what more could be done to improve the qualities of social indicators. (excerpt)
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