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Sigmah evaluation: showing the way forward

SimLab recently carried out an evaluation of the Sigmah project which looked at a certain number of challenges that have become apparent, nine years after the launch of this collaborative project. Sigmah was created to meet a need that had been expressed by the sector, following an in-depth assessment carried out among the main French NGOs. This led to the development of open source information management software for international aid projects. Sigmah has now reached a critical point, with doubts being raised about some of the fundamentals of the project, from the content of the software to the adoption process, the governance model and the economic model. As we believe that there is a need for transparency in our sector and as we feel that an evaluation can be an opportunity to bounce back with renewed energy and direction, we have decided to share the evaluation results and our ideas to make the project sustainable in the long-term.

 The need to take stock

Sigmah is the product of a participatory project run by a group of aid organisations. Since the project was launched, these organisations have depended on the expertise of Groupe URD and its professional and volunteer partners to develop the software so that it meets their needs, and to make this commonly owned asset available to all.

As is true for any innovation, the project has involved risk-taking, investment, promotion, mobilization, re-evaluation, dealing with the unexpected, dealing with problems, etc. The evaluation was carried out to establish the strengths and weaknesses not only of the software, but also of the broader project, and to analyse certain structural difficulties that have been encountered. Sharing the issues raised by the evaluation is a way for us to practice what we preach when we are the evaluator, and thus contribute to learning within the sector.

 An evaluation that shows the way forward

Like any evaluation, this one highlighted both positive and negative points, and the objective analysis that it has provided will help to make strategic decisions. Though it is clear that structural changes need to be made to ensure that the project can develop sustainably and more effectively, the evaluation has helped us to identify certain difficulties that we have come up against. We are subsequently in a stronger position now to continue to build on the confidence of our partners and users.

Regarding the software, the evaluation suggested that the project had been too ambitious from the beginning. The development of the software should now concentrate on priority features to be determined by the users. In terms of the adoption process, in order to improve the level of appropriation by all the targeted users within an organisation, a key change will be to fully involve field staff in all discussions about configuration.

The form of governance and the economic model also needs to be clarified, in order to be able to transfer technical responsibilities for the project to specialised organisations in the medium term. This would take some of the pressure off Groupe URD, as our current human and financial investment in the project has become problematic. What is more, as the evaluation highlighted that a major strength of the project was the quality of the professional relationship between Groupe URD and its NGO partners, this could be refocused to concentrate on organisational and quality-related support.

In order to move forward quickly on all these subjects, we will be meeting with the members of the steering cooperative at the end of the month to propose an action plan for the short, medium and long term. A consultation of all Sigmah user organisations will also be quickly put in place to address the question of simplifying the software. A study aiming to define a partnership strategy to make the project sustainable and a new economic model will also be launched very quickly in keeping with the results of the evaluation, which will be funded by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.