“Simple but not simplistic: Findings from a theory-driven retrospective evaluation of a small projects program”, Larry Dershem, Maya Komakhidze and Mariam Berianidze (PMCG, Georgia) 

Background and purpose 

From 2010–2019, the United States Peace Corps Volunteers in Georgia implemented 270 small projects as part of the US Peace Corps/Georgia Small Projects Assistance (SPA) Program. In early 2020, the US Peace Corps/Georgia office commissioned a retrospective evaluation of these projects. The key evaluation questions were: 1) To what degree were SPA Program projects successful in achieving the SPA Program objectives over the ten years, 2) To what extent can the achieved outcomes be attributed to the SPA Program’s interventions, and 3) How can the SPA Program be improved to increase likelihood of success of future projects. 


Three theory-driven methods were used to answer the evaluation questions. First, a performance rubric was collaboratively developed with SPA Program staff to clearly identify which small projects had achieved intended outcomes and satisfied the SPA Program’s criteria for successful projects. Second, qualitative comparative analysis was used to understand the conidtions that led to successful and unsuccessful projects and obtain a causal package of conditions that was conducive to a successful outcome. Third, causal process tracing was used to unpack how and why the conjunction of conditions identified through qualitative comparative analysis were sufficient for a successful outcome. 


Based on the performance rubric, thirty-one percent (82) of small projects were categorized as successful. Using Boolean minimization of a truth table based on cross case analysis of successful projects, a causal package of five conditions was sufficient to produce the likelihood of a successful outcome. Of the five conditions in the causal package, the productive relationship of two conditions was sequential whereas for the remaining three conditions it was simultaneous. Distinctive characteristics explained the remaining successful projects that had only several of the five conditions present from the causal package. A causal package, comprised of the conjunction of two conditions, was sufficient to produce the likelihood of an unsuccessful project. 


Despite having modest grant amounts, short implementation periods, and a relatively straightforward intervention logic, success in the SPA Program was uncommon over the ten years because a complex combination of conditions was necessary to achieve success. In contrast, project failure was more frequent and uncomplicated. However, by focusing on the causal package of five conditions during project design and implementation, the success of small projects can be increased. 

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