Baselines. A 'sexy' topic in development

Updated: Jun 3


This is the second article in my series on baselines. In the last blog post I defined what baseline data is and what a baseline study was all about. The last article also made distinctions made between a common terms such as a baseline, needs assessment and a benchmark.

The importance of having baseline data was also established in the first blog post. There are several organisations and literature on Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) which states that a baseline study is not necessary on all occasions. I hold a different view.

I believe that once a programme is designed, there should always be some process to collect baseline data. It is just a question of whether that process/baseline study will be ‘light’ (e.g. just reviewing documents or stating that nothing is currently in place as you already possess this knowledge) or the process/baseline study will be a rigorous one that utilises a research methodology.

Light or heavy baseline study?

The table below is useful guide that was adapted from the IFRC. Once again, I have used the same project from the first blog as an example in the table.

When should a baseline study be done?

In the previous blog we it was established that ideally the baseline study is done after a project is designed but before a project starts. I will now add that in principle, the baseline study should take place after the needs assessment. After all, the needs assessment reveals the prevailing conditions and the type of interventions/projects that would be needed. Based on the results of the needs assessment, the intervention/project is designed (with the log frame with indicators) and then comes the baseline study. This all takes place in planning stages before implementation begins.

Image showing the sequencing of needs assessment, project design and baseline studies

Image reproduced from ‘Baseline Basics’, IFRC 2013

However, the preceding paragraph states what should happen in theory. In reality, a lot of programmes and projects are started (and even completed) without any form of baseline data ever being collected. Problems may arise when the programme or project needs to be evaluated and there is no available baseline data. There are several options to address this. For example, reconstructing baseline data or using an evaluation methodology that does not rely on the collection of baseline data. I will write more on this in another blog post. Stay tuned.

I hope you found this blog post helpful. Please feel free to share any other tips or useful information on baselines in the Comments section below.

Reference materials:

UNDP (2009) Handbook on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluating for Development Results

IFRC (2013), Baseline Basics

#needsassessment #baselinestudy #baseline

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