Evaluating and learning from your project’s approach to safeguarding

The latest in a series of online sessions forming part of Changing the Story’s Safeguarding project was designed and delivered by Linda Hoxha, CTS’ Regional Lead for Europe. You can watch the webinar recording here.  Linda has extensive experience with Save the Children on approaches to Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability & Learning (MEAL). She explores

· how you might reflect on how you know that your safeguarding policy and practice is doing what you intended it to do, and

· how you can learn from your experiences, and transfer that learning to other CTS projects.

MEAL is a well established generic approach in international development research, and you may already use aspects of it in your academic research project. We apply it here specifically to how you can evaluate the safeguarding component within that project.

It was noted early on in the session that we need to get away from thinking of this approach as a managerial tool in project management in favour of using it to co-develop ‘statements of intent’ that your team can refer to and reflect on throughout your project. This should be a component of your theory of change, where you establish core values, and identify underlying assumptions, such as

· an empty incident log is an indicator of inadequate monitoring and/or a culture that does not encourage disclosure,

· there is a mutual understanding of what constitutes ‘being safe’ in a post-conflict or financially constrained society (e.g. children in a certain research cohort are safer in school than at home or on the streets), or that one must be reached before meaningful evaluation can take place, or

· goodwill is enough.

Save the Children identifies some possible statements of intent. In a CTS context, these may be expressed as, for example,

Organisational and management structures:

· Evidence of reflection on incident log entries and subsequent action plan will be produced and made available.

· All incidents that have been recorded within the project’s recognised mechanisms were dealt with in a satisfactory and timely manner.

· The percentage of participants from residential care / with a recognised disability or learning difficulty is x.

· An awareness of diversity is embedded into project activities / curriculum.

· A number of young ‘safeguarding ambassadors’ will be recruited, and an appropriate level of training provided for them.

Empowered participants

· A greater number of CSO staff / young participants were able after the project to identify forms of power imbalance / gender-based violence than before.

· All participants can identify someone to go to if they have a safeguarding concern.

· Children that are able to express themselves with confidence, and participate actively in discussions and decisions concerning their wellbeing.

· Stakeholders will be canvassed on their response to the relevant set of questions set out in UKCDR’s (2020) Guidance on Safeguarding in International Development Research. (These include ‘Research Manager’, ‘HR & Legal Departments’, ‘Principal Investigator’, ‘Researcher / Research Assistant’, Research Participant’ and ‘Non-academic Stakeholder’ such as parent or CSO staff member.

Influence on policy

· Learning within the project around safeguarding will be disseminated between other CTS projects and/or to national /regional policy-making bodies.

Participants in the webinar refer to other approaches that may use unfamiliar terminology, such as ‘outcome harvesting’. Again, it’s important to recognise that they refer to things you are probably already doing, such as (in this example) recognising that the relationship between cause and effect is not always clear, but that we can still collect evidence of change from monitoring the agreed statements of intent.

It was also suggested that funders’ (perceived) requirements may be tempered by safeguarding concerns. An example given was that of a proposed requirement to publish participants’ school grades.

A caveat was raised in the dangers of indicators of intent mutating into ‘targets’.

To which aspects of safeguarding does MEAL apply?

Approaches to safeguarding commonly address the aspects of ‘awareness raising’, ‘prevention’, ‘response’ and ‘reporting’. MEAL tools and indicators can be developed for each.

At what phase of the project can we develop a strategy for monitoring and evaluation?

It was agreed that awareness-raising and co-development activities are far more beneficial at the design phase of a project. However, regular reflection on your theory of change can allow for introducing an intervention at any stage. Participants discussed the need to ‘change mindset’ or simply to raise awareness of the scope and prevalence of the issues, and of structures and mechanisms to address them.

Does MEAL only apply to organisations or projects with a vertical hierarchy?

While safeguarding mechanisms rely on a mutual understanding of when and how to escalate a concern, how this is done would depend on the collaborative agreement between partners. It should be clear, though, who is responsible (and accountable) for which aspect, and that the ethos and methods are compatible.

The term ‘accountability’ has raised some concerns, especially around legal liability in countries where judicial structures are unpredictable. It should, then, be ascertained in each role for what an individual is – and is not – accountable. It be reassuring in a designated safeguarding first-point-of-contact role, for example, to understand when and how they should elevate a concern. You are not accountable when you model best practice as defined within your role.

A participatory arts-based approached to evaluating and sharing approaches to safeguarding.

Lastly, it was acknowledged that arts-based research is valued for the richness of its qualitative data, and ability to disseminate findings in a way that can be understood a diverse audience.

Linda pointed out that storytelling can be an effective tool in MEAL. Depending on the extent to which participants feel comfortable exploring sensitive issues such as perceptions of authority, care and neglect, peer pressure, or living with stigma, a self-produced video output might constitute a powerful statement on your safeguarding approach.

It would be great if you could encourage and facilitate your participants in creating such a video (perhaps an attainable and pertinent distraction in lockdown). We’d be happy to provide a platform for the result.

Equally, if you’d like any support in choosing an approach to safeguarding, co-developing policies, documentation and mechanisms, or evaluating the approach you already have, then contact a.cegielka@leeds.ac.uk.