Taking stock of processes and goals: SUN Movement Joint Assessments (2017) in Burkina Faso and Kenya
Ambarka Youssoufane, ENN Regional Knowledge Management Specialist for West and Central Africa, and Lillian Karanja, ENN Regional Knowledge Management Specialist, East and Southern Africa, were invited to observe country Joint Assessments in Burkina Faso and Kenya, respectively.
Every year SUN Movement member countries are encouraged to engage in a Joint Assessment (JA) exercise to assess their country’s progress against four processes in pursuit of the strategic objectives specified in the SUN Movement Strategy and Roadmap (2016-2020).
• Process one: Bringing people together in the same space for action.
• Process two: Ensuring a coherent policy and legal framework.
• Process three: Aligning actions around a Common Results Framework (CRF).
• Process four: Tracking finance and mobilising resources.
The JA process was initiated in 2014 and provides the core foundation of the SUN Monitoring, Evaluation Accountability and Learning (MEAL) framework1.
Box 1: Key objectives of the JA process
The JA has five objectives:
1. Promote the coming together of teams of in-country stakeholders in a participatory process to align their vision of the status of institutional transformations for scaling up nutrition in each SUN country, including progress over the past year;
2. Give a snapshot of challenges and obstacles faced;
3. Mobilise support for realising joint goals, including ensuring that women and girls are at the heart of all actions in terms of substance, structure and staffing at the country level;
4. Set common priorities for the following year and identify the support available for achieving them;
5. Provide concrete inputs to the decision-making process of the global SUN system and its support system, including the SUN Movement Executive Committee, Lead Group, Networks, Experts, Coordinator and Secretariat.
Scores range from 0 (nothing in place) to 4 (completed and fully operational) and are based on a combined attribution by the members of the different SUN country networks. SUN countries are encouraged to use the previous year’s report as a reference to objectively assess whether there has been progress.
Each country approaches the exercise differently, although the most important considerations are that it is facilitated by the SUN Government Focal Point and done jointly, bringing together actors from the different government sectors and stakeholders involved in nutrition, including representatives from the SUN country networks (donor, civil society, business and private sector).
Figure 1: Range of scores for each step of JA process
Description of the JA in two SUN countries
Five SUN country networks have been formed since Burkina Faso joined the SUN Movement in 2011. In May 2017, the country approved a multi-sector strategic plan for nutrition, including a CRF, a monitoring and evaluation system, and a budget estimate (although annual and sector work plans containing measurable targets still need to be developed), alongside a multi-sector information platform on nutrition.
Burkina Faso’s JA meeting in June 2017 was attended by 33 people, with the majority of participants from government sectors. Networks represented by just one or two people joined with other networks to form a single work group (for example, civil society combined with the private sector network).
Guidelines of the JA process were shared with Burkina Faso participants by the SUN Government Focal Point a few days in advance of the meeting, but no specific preparations were undertaken by the participants. This may have contributed to time constraints identified during the JA. However, the process itself was described as the most important part of the work, since key discussions were held within groups before attributing scores.
Those who took part were pleased to be a part of the JA exercise and most agreed on the importance of the process in discussing progress made by a country in scaling up nutrition and assessing progress since the previous year; however, it was suggested that group work could be organised by the SUN country networks among themselves before coming together as a multi-stakeholder platform to assess progress jointly. It was also suggested that the JA results themselves could be better used by finding ways of monitoring progress towards achieving the CRF objectives.
For Kenya, the JA held in May 2017 was primarily an all-SUN networks meeting. Thirty-six participants took part, including nine from government. The event was an opportunity for each network individually to take stock of its progress at the self-assessment stage (Kenyan SUN networks had conducted a self-assessment, either via e-mail or face-to-face discussions, prior to the JA meeting), as well as build awareness of each other’s progress collectively.
Participants were reflective and the different networks seemed aware of each other’s progress and limitations, using this to challenge each other when it came to allocating marks. Two facilitators took turns in leading participants through the JA processes, reading out progress markers and the assigned scores for each network from their self-assessments, then opening the floor for discussions to assign a joint score. Disagreement over scores was brokered by referring back to the previous year to check if there had been progress on the specific issue. Participants felt that progress recorded needed to remain modest to challenge actors to improve.
The JA exercise was a means to a greater end in terms of assessing how far the networks had come in defining and adopting a common goal, e.g. in Kenya’s case finalising the Food Security and Nutrition Strategy in order to have a CRF that can be adopted by all networks; revision of the Kenya National Nutrition Action Plan; and progress in adoption of the food security and nutrition bill.
The JA content was useful in stimulating broader, thoughtprovoking discussions and both stages of the JA process (joint and self-assessment) provided space to reflect on the progress of scaling up nutrition in general.
Final observations on JAs in Burkina Faso and Kenya
The JA process
The JA exercise is seen by both countries as an important process in the SUN Movement approach. Because it is based on the views of multiple nutrition-focused stakeholders at country level, they are able to reflect on their progress towards collective nutrition goals and identify weaknesses and challenges in order to strengthen and embed the scaling-up process. In some cases, the annual JA may be the only time in the year that nutrition stakeholders and SUN Government Focal Points are able to take stock and look ahead to the coming year. In addition, the JA exercise not only gives a picture at the country level, but the combined JA gives an overall picture of the SUN Movement’s progress. However, despite the importance of the JA process, a number of challenges were raised around specific elements within it.
The JA tool
One of the challenges shared by stakeholders in both countries was the need for a more straightforward tool: a number of questions in the questionnaire were described as “not straightforward” and requiring complex answers and the process of filling out the form was described as “tedious”, with some duplication with other UN reporting tools. Despite the guidance offered by the SUN Movement Secretariat on interpreting the meaning behind the scores, interpretations remained varied, with uncertainty on what was meant by the indicators.
The use and implications of results from the JA
Lack of further in-country consultations on the results of their JAs once they had been completed was mentioned by participants in both countries. Although the SUN Movement Secretariat provides feedback on all JAs and includes the analysed information from the JAs in the SUN Movement Annual Progress Reports, the feedback process was not widely understood by in-country participants. It may be helpful to share and disseminate the documentation process broadly so that participants are made aware of the means of utilising the findings of the final JA report. Participants in the Burkina Faso JA found it a really useful tool and complained about not using it throughout the year to monitor implementation. The last part of the JA exercise concerns planning for next year’s priorities to scale up nutrition in-country; however, it was observed that stakeholders had not looked at the priorities set for the following year during the 2016 JA after completion of the exercise and these were only revisited during the 2017 JA exercise. It came as no surprise to many stakeholders to see that many of the priority aims were not achieved.
The context-specific characteristics that influence JA results
Progress markers under process three (aligning actions around a CRF) in the JA template assume the existence of a CRF. Lack of an officially adopted CRF was a specific limitation for the Kenyan SUN networks, causing the networks to revert to individual group objectives rather than well-defined joint goals. There was a sense of the Kenya networks being limited in what they could jointly accomplish in the absence of an established multi-stakeholder platform and an agreed CRF. On balance, stakeholders from both countries reported the value of network-to-network engagement offered by JAs and the unique opportunity they offer to gain a comprehensive picture of nutrition progress at national level.
“The JA assessment is a unique opportunity to bring all the different actors on board to monitor and plan together. We are also expecting through the JA to discuss the challenges of scaling up nutrition, especially through nutrition-sensitive interventions such as WASH, food security, etc.”
Briac Deffobiss, EU Burkina Faso, SUN Donor coordinator
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Reference this page
Ambarka Youssoufane and Lillian Karanja (2018). Taking stock of processes and goals: SUN Movement Joint Assessments (2017) in Burkina Faso and Kenya. Nutrition Exchange 9, January 2018. p18. www.ennonline.net/nex/9/sunjointassessburkinafasokenya