Sustaining action in community-based groups requires connection and momentum, fed by credible information and lessons learned through previous practice. Since 2000, Tostan has trained Community Management Committees (CMCs) in each village or urban neighborhood where it implements its Community Empowerment Program (CEP) with the goal of sustaining action for human-rights defense and community development activities after the end of the program.

Over time, gaps in CMC capacity in practice appeared as the memory of the intervention faded. This led Tostan to create the Empowered Communities Network (ECN), an experimental project seeking to sustain and scale the CMCs’ impact by facilitating stronger regional networking, increased opportunities for growth as community-based organizations, and partnerships with specialized third party organizations.

This case study describes the design and ongoing execution of a system for monitoring the capacity of the CMCs. In addition to capacity, the ECN project found that having up-to-date information on the CMCs’ activities and development priorities was a key ingredient to setting up partnerships. The theory of change espoused throughout this case is that in an NGO environment a monitoring system can be managed in such a fashion that its execution builds capacity within the evaluators, Tostan agents, and in turn the evaluand, the CMC. Without the evaluative capacity to describe the current situation of a community, propose changes, and prioritize actions on the CMC’s and community’s own terms, any claims to autonomous sustainable development will be difficult to maintain. The ECN monitoring system seeks to build such capacity.

Building capacity for self-monitoring is a slow process, but worth the time investment. However, it is sometimes difficult to focus on long-term capacity-building when project managers immediately want as much information as possible about every group, an often untenable proposition. Still, since the system was put into place two years ago, there has been a net increase in the quality of the monitoring system’s products—reports, CMC Profiles, regular updates on government recognition status, and international and grassroots partnerships. This has been largely thanks to the flexibility in design, use, and application of the monitoring system at Tostan.

The ECN is one site where Tostan can utilize self-evaluation to build a culture of reflective practice in support Tostan as a learning organization. As the ECN project matures, the strengths of its CMCs will extend into federated structures, further reinforcing and scaling community-led initiatives in partnership with other institutions.

Tostan has an opportunity to further invest in local languages resources for M&E to increase the ability of the CMCs and Federations themselves to collect data, analyze and disseminate information without a special intervention on Tostan’s part. Training field agents on specific participatory methodology, while establishing a clear strategy and budget for transitioning the assessment function to the CMCs, ensuring the report-back function to the CMCs, and giving CMCs a forum to talk to back to Tostan will enrich the reflective culture and further deliver the promise of a network of empowered communities.


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