As we wrap up our six-year evaluation of SPRING, many of our team members are remembering SPRING-related events. Gordon Freer (GF), the evaluation team lead took advantage of this self-reflective mood and spoke to Eileen Lambourne (EL), our impact evaluation lead about her time with the programme.
GF: You were the SPRING impact evaluation lead – telling the story of changes SPRING made to the lives of girls. What is your “elevator pitch”, when people asked what difference SPRING made?
EL: I think there were so many ways that SPRING made a difference. Some of these were directly in the lives of girls – we know that education and learning interventions made a big impact, and that younger girls were the most open to change. The SPRING businesses needed to think differently about engaging with the girls, they were a “hidden market” for most of them. So, businesses needed to consider how to make their products and service attractive and accessible to girls. This was also a notable difference, getting businesses to think about reaching an untapped, previously ignored market who were in need of products and services.
GF: You travelled to a range of countries and met with girls and their families, in a variety of cities, in different circumstances. Were there any common threads between these individuals?
EL: Definitely. Girls of all ages were keen to share their new understanding, new knowledge, or new skills with their siblings, mothers and aunts, and in some cases with both of their parents. Younger girls were a lot more open to sharing their new experiences, both with us as evaluators as well as with their relatives, friends and neighbours. I think this also has a bearing on how actively they were engaged with and impacted by the different SPRING interventions.
There were also commonalities between the home and family environments across the nine countries. Parents always wanted what was best for their daughters, but there was sometimes very different views as to what this was and how they could best support their daughters to achieve these dreams.
On the negative side a common thread that ran throughout all nine countries was the issue of girl safety. Girls in different countries faced different types and magnitude of safety issues, all of which demonstrated the importance of programmes like SPRING.
GF: From an evaluation or methodological point of view what was the most challenging aspect of your work?
EL: From an evaluation point of view, reaching the girls to interview them, and ensuring appropriate levels of safeguarding in the home environment was a lot more challenging – ensuring confidentiality in a shared room, in the presence of a guardian for girls under 18 years old, for example was difficult. Getting access to the homes using trusted community mentors helped a lot.
Then ensuring that our data was authentic. Triangulation helped with this – multiple sources of data: interviewer-led surveys, Key informant interviews, focus groups, workshops and observation.
Another challenge was satisfying donors’ prescribed way of data collection while at the same time capturing the whole picture. For example, some donors prefer statistically significant quantitative data. And we felt at times, as evaluators, we needed to educate donors about the limitations of using only quantitative data to demonstrate impact and change. Numbers only reflect part of the story – the bare bones of impact – and this needs to be complemented by qualitative data; the context, the process, the level of engagement, and the ability to detect subtle changes and unintended consequences. I think that ethnography studies, spending time with girls, their families and communities they live in, are far more meaningful in identifying the stories of change.
GF: For the last five or six years you have been walking this journey with SPRING, as part of the evaluation team, what lesson or lessons can you share with others who might be embarking on a journey to empower girls, or working with the private sector?
EL: I think these are two different things that SPRING brought together rather uniquely. But in working with adolescent girls, I think the most important thing to remember is that they are girls, they are young, and they have limited capacity for taking on additional responsibility. Of course, sometimes circumstances force them to do so, but those situations are unique. Of course, we want to guide and mentor girls to be mature, responsible, empowered women – but at the moment they are girls. Let them be girls and mentor and guide them accordingly.
In relation to working with the private sector, I don’t think enough businesses realise the depth and value of the data they already have access to, and as a result they don’t make use of this data. In SPRING, some of this came together in teaching the businesses the value of understanding their customers better using a Human Centred Design approach. But many of the businesses could have quite easily gathered or assimilated the data we gathered as evaluators. This type of information should not just be seen as programme or donor related data – it really could inform the business’ own market research and product development.
GF: Finally – you must have so many memories of the SPRING business, their owners, and importantly of the girls. Do you have one or two that stick out for you?
There are so many to choose from, but I have a couple of favourites. In Rwanda, we completed a brief ethnography study of girls who participated in cooperatives. We visited their homes, saw how they lived, examined the records of their cooperative and interviewed their parents and neighbours. Everyone was just so hospitable, it was humbling.
Another memory was watching an en masse delivery model of a girls’ self-defence class. Large groups of girls were being trained together and building “girl power”. Seeing it delivered, speaking to parents whose daughters had returned home to teach them what they had learned, hearing feedback from girls months later on how much difference the self-defence training had made in developing their self-awareness and confidence. Demonstrating the impact of intervening at the right time in a girl’s life to leave a lasting impression and change. That was powerful.