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The assessment methodology should be viewed as a continuous and participatory process. It is based on seeking answers to questions through discussions with key informants, an examination of documents, as well as field visits and observation. There will be many questions that you cannot answer; this must not prevent you from undertaking the assessment.

Take a pragmatic approach: do the best you can with the resources you have. The key point is that you have started the process.

The following step-by-step guide will help you to carry out the assessment.

Step 1: Preparing for the assessment

a) Essential reading

To begin, you need firstly to undertake some essential background reading: this Tool itself should be read thoroughly, as well as its companion volume “Community-based food and nutrition: what makes them successful. A review and analysis of experience” (FAO, 2003)1. A list of recommended reading is provided in Annex 2 which also gives details of how you can obtain the essential texts. If you are unfamiliar with the methodology of community participation, we urge you to read at least “Partners in Planning” by S. Rifkin and P. Pridmore (2001).

FAO, in collaboration with the University of the Western Cape's School of Public Health, Cape Town, South Africa, has prepared a Users’ Training Manual to assist in the preparation of the Assessment Team members. This is an important consideration since they may not all be familiar with some of the nutrition concepts being used in this tool. Furthermore, it is in the interest of an effective assessment to be able to draw upon individual team members who do not have formal nutrition training. This can make an important contribution towards the building of an effective intersectoral process for nutrition improvement. The training can be adapted to varying levels of knowledge and to the amount of time available. The Users’ Training Manual, together with the Assessment Tool, will constitute valuable resources for all those involved in programme assessment.

b) Forming the Assessment Team

You need to form an Assessment Team. Ideally, the Team should comprise the following 10 to 15 people, as appropriate to your programme:

Remember that this is the ideal team. If you cannot form such an extensive, high-calibre team, then settle for a more modest one, with a minimum of two people.

If your first assessment has been successful, you may be able to expand the team for future assessments. The specific composition of your Assessment Team should be guided by the size, resources and nature of the programme you are assessing. We recognize that it may not be easy to bring together such a complete team and to ask many individuals to devote considerable time and energy to the assessment. It will be especially hard to achieve if nutrition is not well recognized in the country as a part of national development, or if good intersectoral collaboration for nutritional improvement has not yet been achieved.

c) Identifying key informants and essential documentation

The Assessment Team, however complete, will not be able to answer all the questions for the assessment. Working with your Team, go through the four sections of the Assessment Tool to identify the key individuals who can give you the answers. You need such key informants from all levels: national, subnational, programme and community levels. Community leaders and field programme staff can be especially helpful: they can provide a perspective that cannot be provided by national-level personnel.

Necessary documentation should be gathered: as a minimum you will need the programme document and any reports or evaluations that the programme has produced. You should seek evidence that supportive national policies have not simply been signed but have also been implemented. To assess the nature of the nutrition problems, and hence whether the programme has addressed these, you should look for surveys and other reports that cover the programme area. Also important is evidence of programme-led community-based activities, such as community action plans.

d) Developing a plan of work

The Assessment Team needs to agree on a schedule of meetings, a time frame for the assessment, responsibilities, and a plan of work. The Assessment Tool asks you to read many documents, hold many discussions and focus group meetings and to conduct many field visits. To rationalize these, you need to study the Assessment Tool carefully to determine all the information you can gather during the course of any one exercise, so as to avoid having, for example, to return repeatedly to communities or consult the same key informants again and again. A well-planned schedule and plan of work will simplify the methodology and save considerably on time and effort.

Step 2: Assessing the nutrition programme

a) Getting started

An excellent way to start the process of assessment is to draw up a problem tree2.The Assessment Team should do this as a participatory exercise: it will help focus the thoughts and ideas of the Team members and help everyone to understand the nature of the nutritional problems in the programme area and the constraints to improvements in nutritional status. If your programme covers different agro-ecological zones with different food security and nutritional profiles, you will need to develop more than one problem tree.

b) Working through the assessment sections

The methodology is divided into four sections:

Section I:Assessing programme design
Section II:Assessing the macroenvironment
Section III:Assessing the microenvironment
Section IV:Assessing sustainability

Overlap between sections in the information you are asked to gather is inevitable, but it is also useful as you will be looking at the information from different perspectives. After constructing the problem tree(s), start working through each section, attempting to answer the questions in each section. Save a copy of your problem tree so that you may go back to it as often as necessary in order not to lose the view of the bigger picture of the issues that you are trying to address. Not all questions will necessarily be relevant to your programme. You may also like to add questions specific to your programme. Use your key informants, documents and field visits to answer the questions.

c) Completing the summary report

Once you have completed a section, you need to summarize the information you have gathered. A summary helps you to organize your findings and pinpoint weaknesses that need to be addressed, but any summary necessarily tends to simplify what is in reality a complex situation. You have gathered a wealth of information which will be useful to guide action. Through discussions, the Assessment Team should agree on the three most important issues that have emerged within each subcomponent of that section. Use the Summary Report form provided in Annex 1 to guide your discussions, then complete the form. This procedure should be repeated after each of the four sections.

d) Conducting SWOC analyses3

Using your Summary Report as a guide, undertake a SWOC analysis for each section of the assessment: list the main strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints identified. Decisions should be based on reaching consensus within the Assessment Team. Keep the lists you have compiled: they are essential for guiding action.

e) Preparing the assessment report

Once you have worked through all four sections, completed the Summary Report and SWOC analyses, prepare the Assessment Team's report. The issues identified in the summary will form an excellent basis for the report's executive summary.

Step 3: Planning action

It is time now to move to action. Each section ends with some suggestions for actions related to that section. Use these suggestions and the SWOC analyses to decide:

Prepare a plan of action (with targets and deadlines) to improve the community-based nutrition programme. Attach this plan to the Assessment Report and circulate the report to relevant government ministries and departments, programme management staff and other key actors in programme implementation. Then begin to implement the plan.

The Assessment Team needs also to decide when it will re-assess the programme. The Assessment Team's report, the completed checklist, the SWOC analyses and the plan of action are all important as baseline documents for the re-assessment.

A final note

You have started an important process and it is important to remember that it is a process, not a one-off event or a checklist to complete. It is a process of reflection and investigation that will give you a deeper understanding of how your programme functions and how its impact could be enhanced. Be practical; do the best you can with the resources you have. The first assessment may well be incomplete and less than perfect. This should not deter you. What is important is that you have started the process.

1 Many quotes and text in boxes in this Assessment Tool refer to this document as: FAO's in-depth study of nine programmes (2003).

2 Guidance on how to do this is provided in Annex 4.

3 SWOC = Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Constraints. Instructions on how to carry out a SWOC analysis are provided in Annex 4.

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