Malawi Learning Lab

The CARE P-Shift process is in its third year in Malawi, and momentum keeps building as the Country Office moves closer to finalizing design frameworks for its three programs.

Malawi has decided to undertake the P-Shift in a more flexible time frame as opposed to a fixed timeline for development of programs and operationalising them as well as managing related organisational change implications. The gradual manner of transformation was primarily to manage the shift process within available resources.The Country Office has held a series of workshops, trainings and other processes to identify specific impact populations on whom its programming should focus on and be accountable to in impact monitoring. PShift Brief - Malawi Strategy process.pdf

These spaces have facilitated generation of lessons and wisdom from past knowledge and experience from community interaction through to project implementation as well as from research conducted by CARE or other institutions. New project design processes have provided important opportunities to reflect on and generate wisdom to inform future program design processes and content. Past documentation on sector strategies have formed part of the knowledge pool to inform program design choices. Program development has also been linked to the Access Africa and Power Within global programs.
Through this process CARE Malawi has identified three impact populations:
1. Women in vulnerable, chronically food insecure, rural smallholder households;

2. Rural adolescent girls of primary and post-primary school age, approximately 10-18 years; and
3. Women in very poor, chronically food insecure, highly labor constrained, female headed households.

All three program strategies are at advanced stages of development with the majority of the problem analysis completed, impact populations identified, and elements of the theories of change and program goals drafted.

Program Design

CARE Malawi's Approach to Designing a Program
Between May 2008 and June 2010 CARE Malawi held a series of workshops, trainings, community consultations, design work for projects and global programs, project reviews, and research and analysis to progress the designs of its three programs. A CARE Malawi P-Shift process document captures the steps and lessons from this process: CARE Malawi Stepping Stones to PShift June 2010.pdf

Program Analysis
CARE Malawi used their review of the Long Range Strategic Plan (LRSP), completed in 2007, to inform a choice of four impact-focused strategic directions. Based on the revised LRSP the CO agreed on strategic impact statements to identify two broad programs: Economic Development and Food Security and Services Related to Health and Education.

The following adjustments were made to the selected strategic directions to ensure that they aligned with the definition and characteristics of a program. These included:
Geography: The strategic plans focus is on the central region in Malawi. However, in defining broad scale, staff began to think more broadly about the types of the people and the specific settings that they wanted their programs to benefit.
Time frame: The strategic plan was designed as a five year plan, however, it was unanimously agreed that CARE Malawi’s programs should be designed to run for at least 15 years.

A thorough analysis of the underlying causes of poverty (UCP) and vulnerability was undertaken for each of the two initial programs in 2008. This work informed the development of a CO level impact monitoring framework and a set of 12 priority indicators for UCP impact measurement were identified. The revised LRSP and M&E Framework guided the development of impact statements which became the first reference points for choosing areas around which CO long term programs would be developed.

Subsequent processes, including smaller workshops and program team discussions, were identified as opportunities to engage staff at different levels into initial program decisions and mapping out the change process. The CO was opportunistic by identifying existing processes which would assist programs to reflect on their program quality practice and start taking specific steps to develop program strategies.

Program Design Process

CARE Malawi launched the P-Shift during a week-long workshop in May 2008. The overall objectives and activities of the week were to:
1. Improve the understanding of staff (especially senior staff) with regard to:
- What a program is (definition and eight characteristics);
- Roles and responsibilities of Learning Laboratories;
- Ubora and the program quality indicators; and
- The organizational changes that will be needed to support the P-Shift approach.
2. Test the program quality indicators and the associated data gathering questionnaire
3. Agree on a process for conducting a program quality baseline
4. Finalize an action plan for FY09 for the program shift, including a high-level road map.

Launching the Shift to a Program Approach in Malawi Report_KG.doc

In October and November 2008 the CO held the first of a series of program design workshops for all project staff and program support staff. These initial program design workshops helped form a common understanding of the process steps to designing programs, identifying tools available for design and gaps existing in reference materials (design guides, research and analysis). They also created initial teams to champion the development of identified program areas. The workshops encouraged teams to develop crude overviews of program content including impact groups, goals and domains of change.

As the CO made progress on the program goals and reflected more on definitions and characteristics of the impact populations it revealed they were too broad and needed to be refined into more specific population groups. Case studies were used to help identify characteristics of people the CO sought to impact on, including sub groups of that impact population, as well as to eliminate specific people the programs would not target (those people CARE Malawi would not have the greatest impact on, such as where other organizations and development programs are already targeting them).

CARE Malawi created subsequent spaces for program teams over the next 18 months to develop program strategies. This included additional research and analysis to better understand the UCP and vulnerabilities of the impact populations, impact population characteristics and theories of change. The process of mapping theories of change raised questions such as how the CO should represent outcomes on a plane of time as it moves toward the goal through the pathways of change. The theory of change mapping process also required the CO to research specific program impact groups, using ongoing research initiatives to contribute to a deeper understanding of the poverty dynamics surrounding its choice of impact populations. Projects designed before the current understanding of impact groups have been used to provide experiential knowledge in the process of developing the programs to strengthen our analytical knowledge from research and other analysis and reflection processes.

Specific program design activities played an important role in developing aspects of the programs by using opportunities that emerged during the analysis and design of new project initiatives (such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation call for food security initiatives in 2009). These spaces helped CARE Malawi identify gaps in its UCP/vulnerability analyses and prompted additional analysis to complement existing knowledge. This informed both program designs and the implementation and management of existing project initiatives by providing related experiential knowledge. Using these opportunities has also ensured all new proposal development processes are aligned to agreed impact populations. These program design development processes were also an early opportunity to identify relationships between projects and programs and consider changes that might be required to translate current projects into programs.

Program development processes have created opportunities to reflect on current program quality learning and practices. This helped CARE Malawi make priority choices on where to spend time and efforts to ensure a balance between maintaining quality in current programs while spending time in conceptual development of programs and related systems and program practice (illustrated below).

Program Support, Staffing and Organisational Structure

Staff teams representing all levels and projects have been involved in program design development processes. This has included reflection meetings and workshops to deal with emerging discomforts of the change process as well as to agree on a vision of the new business model. Review processes have examined existing program quality practices and articulated the strengths and challenges of making the P-Shift, especially with regard to program support functions.

As CARE Malawi begins to operationalise programs it has worked to realign existing projects to program themes. This has required a reorganization of staff from a sector-based operational model to a program-oriented structure. Where new projects have commenced they have done so under the new structure. Efforts have been taken to retain skilled and strategic staff from projects which have ended, who will contribute crucial knowledge and experience for program design and implementation.

The CO is still managing the challenge of broader organizational implications of the P-Shift, in particular how to foster new ways of working between program and program support staff. Explorations are still underway as to how the redefinition of the scope of program quality can help the CO identify a common platform for linking the program changes to program support evolution (in particular changes expected in finance and human resource systems). This has been a slow process with few achievements for CARE Malawi. A review of P-Shift implications for program support functions was conducted during the Southern Africa Regional Program Quality Network meeting in May 2010, the recommendations from which have been highly beneficial for the CO to progress program development in a manner which complements all aspects of CO operations. SARMU workshop recommendations for Program support May 2010.pdf

Program Quality and Impact measurement

The process of program development focusing on specific impact groups has forced the CO to reconsider the relevance of its impact measurement framework (where projects must include indicators to demonstrate impact against broad UCP). It is apparent the CO needs to conduct further analysis on the UCP specific to its chosen impact populations, and develop revised impact indicators accordingly. This is a key piece of work for CARE Malawi to progress in FY 2011.

CARE Malawi Programs

CARE Malawi has identified three impact populations whom it will specifically target using the program approach. All three program strategies are at advanced stages of development with most of the problem analysis done and elements of the theories of change in draft form. A summary of the impact goals, impact population characteristics and domains of change are provided below.

Program 1: Smallholder Farmers Program
Impact population
Women in vulnerable, chronically food insecure, rural smallholder households.

Impact goal statement

Women, who are empowered socially and economically, are able to exercise their rights to access and have control over productive resources and services, and enjoy more diverse and reliable access to income and sufficient nutritious food.

Impact Population Characteristics

The impact population includes economically productive women who earn less than $2/day. They have land and labor and minimal assets but low agricultural productively due to sub-optimal production techniques; reliance on rain fed agriculture; limited and inadequate skills (including literacy and numeracy); no access to improved seeds (hybrids) and fertilizers and inadequate livelihood diversification.
Their households are chronically food insecure and exposed to a range of vulnerabilities. They suffer from high levels of chronic or untreated health conditions such as malnutrition, water born diseases, worm related illnesses etc. These women are burdened with a high dependency ratio and are often in households hosting chronically ill. P1 case study (Mrs Meke).pdf

Domains of change
Based on the characteristics of the impact population and analysis of the underlying causes of poverty three domains of change have been identified for this program:
1. Increased access to, use and control of productive resources, services and opportunities by women.
2. Increased contribution of women to household food security and income.
3. Increased contribution and influence of women in decision making processes and structures on issues that affect women and their households.


By helping women gain access to, use of, and control over productive resources, they will be better able to contribute to agricultural enhancement and production. They will also develop skills, knowledge and relationships along the way that will raise their profile in the agriculture sector. As their profile is raised and discriminatory attitudes and other barriers are reduced, women will be able to increasingly have more control over decisions that affect their labor, resources and assets, households, bodies, and local governance issues. As women can more equitably engage in productive agricultural activities and extra-household decision making they will become increasingly empowered both socially and economically.

Draft Program Strategy P1 _Rural smallholders_ 280510.pdf
SARMU workshop recommendations for Program 1 May 2010.pdf

Program 2: Adolescent Girls Program

Impact population
Rural adolescent girls of primary and post-primary school age, approximately 10-18 years.

Impact goal statement

Empowered rural adolescent girls claim their rights and participate equitably in economic, social and political opportunities and have influence in decision-making at all levels.

Impact Population Characteristics

The impact population includes adolescent girls from vulnerable families in rural areas who are economically deprived and have limited access to appropriate health and education services. It includes orphans and girls coming from non-traditional headed households (female, child or elderly-headed households).
These girls have low literacy or are illiterate, have high absenteeism and dropout rates and a low rate of transition to secondary school. They are discriminated against by the community based on their age and gender. Often they suffer from gender based violence and may be engaged in commercial or transactional sex. These girls do not have access to quality and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and are vulnerable to early pregnancy and economic and social pressure to marry young and drop out of school. They are economically dependent on others and often have low self-esteem, and lack critical thinking skills and assertiveness
Rural adolescent girls lack a voice in or are excluded from decision making foras and consequently are not empowered to make decisions, including over their own bodies, or to claim their rights. Although quality policies and legal frameworks may exist which support their rights these are not being implemented by these girls’ families or communities. P2 case study _Teliza Bezai.pdf

Domains of change

Based on the characteristics of the impact population and analysis of the underlying causes of poverty four domains of change have been identified for this program:
1. Girls individual empowerment.
2. Constructive age and gender relationships.
3. Improved institutional service delivery.
4. Supportive policy and legislation.

Program 2 Theory of Change Diagram

The theory of change explicit focus on age and the grouping of domains demonstrates the multiplying effect of the enabling environment, reflecting the importance of addressing the catalysts that improve the implementation of good policies. This requires shifts in social behaviours which disadvantage girls (e.g. removing girls from school; early marriage) which often starts at home and within community relationships.

SARMU workshop recommendations for Program 2 May 2010.pdf
Draft Program Strategy P2 _Adolescent Girls_ 280510.pdf

Program 3: Female Headed Households
Impact population
Women in very poor, chronically food insecure, highly labor constrained, female headed households.

Impact goal statement

Women have a strong asset base, are food secure, actively influencing policy and decision-making, and program delivery systems are transparent and accountable to their needs.

Impact Population Characteristics

The women from this impact population have very few or no productive or material assets, are highly vulnerable and have the distinct characteristics of social exclusion and limited labor capacity. Few development interventions are specifically tailored for this group.
With limited cash flow, lack of sufficient labor and high dependency ratios these women are unable to generate income for the households and look after their dependents (children and the chronically ill). They often have low literacy levels, limited skills and lack confidence to participate in governance and marketing. As a result, their livelihood strategies are highly risk averse and short term in nature.

Women from female headed households suffer from social exclusion and stigma within the community (from both men and women). They rarely participate in decision making forums; have difficulty connecting with communities and lack social protection. Often they are cut off from services, markets, knowledge and information. Such exclusion often prevents these women from accessing opportunities, such as the Farm Input Subsidy Program and Village Savings and Loans (VSL) committees. Often these women are heading households due to the impact of HIV/AIDS and have been further disadvantaged, marginalized or isolated as a result.

These women need significant and improved social support (particularly child care services) and would benefit significantly from VSL membership, the savings from which could be used to invest in assets and productive activities. P3 case study _Lezinia Zindondo_.pdf

Domains of Change
Based on the characteristics of the impact population and analysis of the underlying causes of poverty three domains of change have been identified for this program:
1. Equitable access to use of and control of services, assets, resources and social support.
2. Improving social inclusion (formal and informal, accessing/implementing supportive policies/strategies).
3. Government policy, strategy and budget relevant and accountable to the needs of women from female headed households.

Program 3 Theory of Change Diagram

SARMU workshop recommendations for Program 3 May 2010.pdf
Draft Program Strategy P3 _Female HHH_ 280510.pdf

Target populations
A key aspect of addressing underlying causes of poverty is being able to influence the relationships between groups. Thus, in addition to the impact populations described above, each program will target a broader array of community members and leaders, as well as specific actors and institutional structures at the regional and national level. This will include:
- Local and National government to influence policies.
- Private sector (agricultural and micro-finance) to open up space for women’s participation in markets and value chains, and in gaining access to credit and financing.
- Civil society groups and networks on issues of equity and promotion and protection of women’s rights.
- Community leaders, village savings and loan committees, and other community actors to promote inclusion of women.
- Community Facilitators to promote women’s participation and place at the table (may include community leaders, merchants/shop owners, civil servants, and youth, etc.).
- Men and boys on issues of gender equity, fairness, and respect.
- Government extension workers.
- Teachers, parents and other community members.

Next Steps
Complete the program strategies, in particular addressing gaps in the analysis and finalizing the theories of change. Further work needs to be done to develop a program learning and impact measurement system, which is aligned with project M&E/impact measurement systems. The CO needs to develop new strategies for key cross-cutting areas (in particular governance, HIV/AIDS, sexual & reproductive health and VS&L) which articulate how those issues will be addressed through each program. The CO also needs to review functions and competencies to inform a restructure of the organization based on what will be required to implement and manage programs.

Learning Questions

How do we select/identify impact populations?
CARE Malawi found that aligning the CO LRSP to impact focused strategic directions integral to guiding program development. The LRSP, combined with UCP and vulnerability analyses and lessons learned from previous and current projects assisted the CO to identify clear impact populations. When deciding upon programs the CO also considered which impact populations it would be able to have the greatest impact on (CARE’s experience/comparative advantage; who other implementing partners are focusing on; etc). A key lesson from the CARE Malawi process was to be flexible and opportunistic in program development, such as using new project design to inform program design and selection of impact populations.

How do we develop a theory of change? Lessons for program strategies
It is important to first establish a strong knowledge base amongst program staff on the theory of change and definitions. CARE Malawi required additional guidance and external assistance to label and identify appropriate breakthroughs. Mathematical equations to pictorially represent the theory of change (particularly the relationships between the domains of change) is only beneficial if programs are confident they have the necessary rigorous analysis and data to support them. Otherwise they should not be used. CARE Malawi found it important to retain all documents which show how it agreed on a theory of change, otherwise these thought processes and logic could be lost in the final product when shown to an external audience. This includes any rough diagrams and flow charts used during brainstorming discussions.

How do we ensure all staff understand the theory, roles and responsibilities of P-Shift?

Application of the theory of change approach to project designs have provided greater opportunities for staff at various levels to build conceptual and application uncerstanding of key terminologies of the programs. Teams developing logframes for recent projects have refered to the program theoty of change and in so doing have developed understanding of the broader program theory and in some cases, based on their experiential knowledge have used that space to feedback on and strengthen the program theory of change. It is through these processes that CARE Malawi discovered, confusions that exist on theory of change terminology (in particular, breakthroughs). This highlights the importance of consistently reviewing whether staff feel they have the tools to manage the program theory of change? A CO communication and learning strategy could be useful to maintain clear and shared understanding of terminilogy. This experience has led us to ask further question on, what new competencies and skills will be required to facilitate the design, implementation and management of programs? Do staff understand the differences between program management and project management?.

How do we ensure the organizational structure reflects the program operational approach and what key positions we need to retain?
CARE Malawi has begun to realign existing projects to program themes. This has required a reorganization of staff from a sector-based operational model to a program-oriented structure. It is important to look at P-shift as an organisational shift from the onset of the process. CARE malawi has used all program development processes as program quality reflective spaces in themselves as a result the analysis of all choices have reflected system and process implications. this has therefore been a point where structural choices are also reflected on. It is better to be aware of implications of choices taken even if you do not have immediate solutions for them , but it means they become part of the next planning and development process. One such aspect is the importance of having a strategic staff rollover plan as projects open and close in a program. knowing which areas of the program strategy are not operationalised yet gives you a a clear picture of which skill areas you will require when initiatives are developed or are to be developed in those areas.

How do we manage the competing demands of transitioning to a program approach and ongoing implementation of existing projects and funding needs?
It is crucial to balance the competing needs of delivering projects and shifting to programs. Forcing time frames for P-Shift can be problematic and interfere with the necessary learning and reflective processes required for effective program design. COs need to create space for the P-Shift in the context of practical field realities and adequately balancing the analytical knowledge and experiential knowledge in the design process. Rushing the process may result in existing sectors simply being relabeled into “programs” rather than a genuine shift to a holistic program approach.

How do we ensure coherence across CO programming?
Every project needs to understand their relationship with each relevant program. This includes knowing not only their direct contributions to the program but also how they complement, link in with, work in same geographical area etc. Program and project planning processes need to be aligned to ensure a coherent approach to programming. Staff also need to understand relationships (social and economic) between impact groups of each program. This is what determines the relationship, linkage and synergies across programs. CARE Malawi has included sections in its program strategies on synergies with the other programs. This has forced program teams to consider the relationships, differences and similarities between programs and identify opportunities to program more effectively and efficiently.

How do we ensure Program Support is transitioning coherently with P-Shift?
It is clear that the program approach will necessitate greater involvement of program support staff in operational decisions. Program staff and senior management will need to know when to involve program support areas, particularly where there are potential implications for program support (for example geography of program implementation, staffing requirements and developing new partnerships relationships with other agencies). Involving Finance and HR staff will be particularly important in the design phase at “go/no go” decision points which may impact workplans and time management of program support staff to allow their involvement. Even if the contribution from program support is informal, there needs to be a clear process.

The most critical change required for CARE Malawi at this stage is for a review of functions and competencies to inform a restructure of the organization based on what will be required to implement and manage programs. A new structure should reflect stronger linkages between program staff and program support staff at both the Field Office and Country Office levels. Structural change options will need costing in advance, since this process may require additional resources.
The program approach requires more flexible, unstructured models which are not enabled easily by existing systems. Therefore CARE needs to simplify and make more adaptive its Program Support systems wherever possible. In particular project and travel advance systems, fleet management, human resourced (recruitment) and procurement. It has been suggested CARE Malawi look to existing donor policies and procedures to find practical solutions to simplifying and decentralizing program support functions. Sub-grant mechanisms also need changing so they are less about control and more about building capacity of local NGOs. Support from the Southern Africa Regional Management Unit and external support such as TA, will be key to drawing from the experience of other Country Offices in this process and developing solutions.

How to we communicate the program approach with donors and implementing partners and involve them in the design process?
CARE Malawi has had a mostly positive experience communicating the program approach with donors. They have overall responded well to the underlying facets of the approach – namely accountability to the most poor, vulnerable and marginalized and to developing country governments for lasting impact. The program approach has allowed CARE Malawi to articulate a picture and vision of social change – one in line with government and MDG strategies – that moves others (donors and implementing partners) to join forces with us to achieve something far beyond our sole ability to accomplish. It is important to ensure program design is more than a purely internal process. Program designs should actively liaise with key implementing partners to ensure their input to the design process, including opportunities to negotiate their role in the program response strategy. External engagement on programs can be difficult, however, when CARE staff themselves are new to the process and theories and are also on a steep learning curve.

Other lessons learned can be found in the CARE Malawi P-Shift process documentation.

Program Design Resources


























[1] Workshop Agenda
[2]Brief #1:Definition and characteristics of a program
[3] CARE Malawi Strategic Plan Overview
CARE Malawi Strategic Plan 2009-2015
CARE Malawi Strategic Directions

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