He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3)
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
For years, my heart stirred within me whenever I read Scriptures like these. I lived like they were written exclusively for me and a small cohort of Western, middle-class counterparts.
Though I knew about helping that hurts, though I embraced solid Imago Dei theology (every man, woman, and child created to bear God’s image), though I did my best to listen and learn…somehow, I always ended up on the solution side of the equation, seeing those in material poverty as a problem to be solved.
Of course, I never said it like that. And I never intended for solutions to point back (exclusively) to me, my leadership, my networks, my community, and my money. But over time, I realized I was looking at impact the wrong way…
I was measuring and celebrating the wrong stuff.
As a pastor with ten years experience in missions and outreach, it took courage–and collaborative leadership–to stop evaluating inputs, outputs, and outcomes. It required discipline to look beyond strategic plans, engaged volunteers, and grateful recipients. (Historically, all of these measures had promoted a great deal of humility–or so I told myself!)
But ending superficial analysis created space for me to ask more fundamental questions: how is God bringing His shalom to this place? Do we see a work of God quieting the proud and empowering the vulnerable? Are relationships being restored: with God, with self, with others, and within the material world?
This final, four-part question is the framework we use to measure holistic impact at HOPE International, the microenterprise organization where I now serve. It’s a wonderful, wide-horizon, question that sets forward four primary domains: spiritual, material, social, and personal. Every time we evaluate a program, we ask questions and make observations across all four of these domains. Beyond that, the relational paradigm embedded in our definition of poverty calls us to measure impact not only amongst the clients we serve, but also within our entire stakeholder community–ALL those we “team with” to see God’s restoration unfolding. (Our stakeholder community at HOPE includes clients, church and field partners, donors, and staff.)
If poverty alleviation is more than having access to healthy relationships (social) or having access to financial services (material), our work culminates only when flourishing relationships are operative in all four of these domains. Think about your life for just one second: any financial stress in your marriage last week? Was there a moment last month when you responded out of your own insecurity? Have you ever tried to hide (something) from God? Surely we all stand in need of God’s grace for restoration in these four domains–no matter our socio-economic standing!
When we measure for holistic impact at HOPE, we not only ask: “Do we see God at work across all four domains?” But also: “Do we see God at work across all four domains within our stakeholder community?” This shift invites every member of our community to pay attention to what God is doing–to be involved in the process of listening, learning, and evaluating God’s work in our midst. (So too, it asks for a special kind of deference–sometimes creative communication or innovative systems–when power dynamics and cultural norms want to elevate one voice over another.)
At HOPE, our Learning, Monitoring, and Evaluation (LM&E) Team bears the primary responsibility to “better understand our stakeholders and our relationship with them to improve mission fulfillment.” As we continue in our work, undoubtedly, countless lessons lie ahead for both this team and our entire stakeholder community! But in the spirit of mutual learning, I close by offering up to you a few lessons we’ve been mulling over:
- Remember the role of LM&E (Learning, Monitoring, and Evaluation). We undertake holistic evaluation to improve–not to prove–our work. In humility, we recognize that we play one role alongside countless churches and communities collaborating to see God’s restoration unfold. Our goal in evaluating impact is to learn how we can better serve our stakeholders–not to prove a direct correlation or causation between our strategies and outcomes.
- Collaborate before you create. Resist the temptation to independently create and test LM&E tools. Glean wisdom first from trials and successes of others–both inside and outside our organization.
- Listen, don’t assume. Listening affirms the dignity of those we serve, gives them a voice in the solution, and sheds light on what to measure and how to measure it. Our starting point should be humble curiosity and thoughtful questions.
- Complete feedback loops. Don’t stop at reviewing and understanding findings; press further…to respond. Our goal is to serve our stakeholders through the feedback we receive. How might we tweak a system or restructure a program toward this end?
- Understand LM&E as part of our ministry–not simply an evaluation of our ministry. How we listen matters. We celebrate that God has used our LM&E work as a contributing factor in the salvation of at least one client and one enumerator!
You can learn even more about Hope International by listening to Christine Baingana’s 2016 SATtalk here: Christina Baingana – Hope International | 2016 SATtalk
Jeanette Thomas is the Heartland Regional Representative for Hope International and lives in the Kansas City area. Before joining the team at Hope she served for 12 years as Pastor of Extension Ministries for Christ Community Church in Leawood, KS.