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Outcome Mapping Practitioner Guide

Using OM in networks (or other complex settings)

Planning in networks is complex and makes monitoring difficult. Some tips on how to adjust Outcome Mapping when used in a network.

Author: Goele Scheers

Published: Tuesday 16 September 2014

When I write about networks here, I refer to member-driven networks with members that are autonomous organisations spread over different countries (e.g. global networks). The tips given below might however also be useful for other complex settings.

Participatory planning in a network is generally a difficult and time-consuming process, because networks and the environment in which they operate tend to be complex. If you work in or with a network, you will know how hard it can be to come to a consensus amongst the members on what the network is doing and where it is heading. This is caused in part by the fact that members are in the network for a variety of reasons (such as belonging to something bigger, being heard, protection, meeting like-minded people, etc.). On top of that, they are embedded in different cultures and backgrounds, which leads to different opinions on what is important for the network. Furthermore, a network is a system that is constantly moving and changing. It needs to be able to adapt the strategy of the network to the changes that are happening within the network (e.g. people entering and leaving the network, being more or less active) or outside of the network (economic, political or social factors). Long-term planning is therefore challenging and not always efficient. Due to this complexity of networks and their rapidly changing environment, planning is easily overruled by reality. In addition, resources to hold network meetings are often limited. If they are available, people tend to invest them in ‘content’ meetings rather than in planning meetings. Although a good amount of time is needed to consult network members in order to develop a proper planning, the actual time available for planning is often limited and fixed by donor deadlines. Outcome Mapping is an effective method for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in networks, but I found that by making small adjustments it becomes easier to deal with the challenges mentioned above.

Here are some tips that might help you:

  • Consider leaving out progress markers

Good progress markers are time-consuming to develop. They can be useful during the intentional design to ensure the outcome challenges are sufficiently ‘challenging’. In my experience with networks however, they are often not really used during monitoring. By the time network members start monitoring, the pathway of change might already look different. This is not problematic, as a network needs to have the flexibility to react to its rapidly changing environment and has to stay innovative. Since network members often participate in the network on a voluntary basis and on top of working for their own organisation it is important to establish good monitoring priorities. Consider therefore not developing progress markers, but to invest the scarce resources in those elements of the intentional design that will still be meaningful during the monitoring stage. 

  • Agree on boundary partners and outcome challenges

So does this mean planning in networks is useless? Not at all. Network members need common goals that they commit to in order to keep the network alive. They need to understand and agree on the change the network strives to achieve in order to keep them motivated to participate in the network’s activities. Therefore, it is valuable to get network members to develop common boundary partners and outcome challenges and to make sure that they are accepted on every level of the network. The process of identifying boundary partners is also a very good exercise for network members to get a grip on its complexity and understand who is trying to influence whom. 

  • Consider not using the OM jargon

If you’re working with members spread across the globe, you might have a lot of discussions about why a boundary partner is called a boundary partner and not something else. This could be because a good translation is not available in a specific language or because some words just have a different nuance in certain languages. In that case, consider not using the terminology. You can simply replace them by asking accurate questions or agree on new terms that most people involved feel comfortable with. It is in the end not the words that are important, but the meaning behind them. So, no harm is done by leaving out the jargon, as long as you stay true to the concepts. 

  • Invest in rigorous monitoring

Shift the emphasis from planning to monitoring. Once you’ve developed good outcome challenges with your network, make sure you agree on efficient monitoring processes. Collect outcomes from your network on a regular or even continuous basis (e.g. by using Outcome Harvesting). Then frequently discuss these outcomes with your network members and adjust your planning and actions accordingly. By doing so, the network will be able to adapt to its rapidly changing environment and is able to engage in an ongoing learning process.

This nugget was applied in: Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).

Related Practitioner Guide sections:

Latin America & Carribean Sub-Saharan Africa North Africa & Middle East South Asia South East Asia & Pacific Far-East Asia Eastern Europe & CIS (ex USSR) Western Europe North America & Canada Australasia