Measuring Success in Development program

July 10, 2023
Julie Sunwoo Byun is WFP’s Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) officer at the World Food Programme (WFP) in Cambodia. Keep reading to learn more about her journey questioning the underlying principles guiding success evaluation in development programmes, as well as Julie’s professional background in the sector that have shaped her perspectives on the importance of inclusive methodologies.

please introduce yourself! What is your role at WFP? Where do you work and
where are you from ?
Hello, I am Julie Sunwoo Byun from South Korea, the Monitoring & Evaluation Officer leading the M&E team here at the Cambodia office. I go by Julie here at WFP.
Tell us about your professional journey: how did you start your career?
Growing up in different countries in Southeast Asia, I’ve come in contact with the International Development/Humanitarian sector at a young age and was always fascinated with the work done to make positive change against some of world’s biggest challenges like hunger and poverty.
I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life and went on to study political science then joined World Vision Seoul Office right after graduation. My journey with World Vision was a long one based in different locations, such as Korea, Bangladesh and the U.K in different roles, including Grants Manager, Project Manager and Technical Advisor for Livelihoods/Food Security programmes.

Julie during a presentation at WFP’s Cambodia Country Office.
During my journey, I became engrossed with the question of why we measure success of a project/programme the way we do in monitoring and evaluations, and the importance of methodologies to decide what gets measured (and what does not), whose voice gets heard and our paradigm of ‘success’ to development programmes. Moreover, I’ve realized the importance of mixed-methods to be able to capture the multi-dimensional aspect of poverty.
To fully immerse myself with these questions, I’ve moved on to study “Research Methods for International Development” for my Master’s degree. This qualification provided a good stepping stone for me to pivot into a Monitoring & Evaluation role.

What brought you to WFP ?
During my time as a Technical Advisor for Livelihoods/Food Security programmes with World Vision International, I’ve frequently used the WFP Hunger Map to get contextual information of a country and the Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) Resource Center for information on food security indicators. I was very impressed with WFP’s intricate methodologies in capturing food insecurity and advanced data analytics, which led me to think that WFP was the perfect place to explore and develop my interests of inclusive methods to measure the multidimensional needs of people in extreme poverty.
This led me to join WFP’s M&E Fit Pool as well as apply for the M&E Officer role with the Cambodia office. The role in Cambodia met the trifactor of my interest in M&E, food security, and my geographic expertise, so I didn’t hesitate to apply for this role when I came across the opening… and luckily I got the job!

Julie with her Cambodia Country Office team. Photo: WFP/Chea Darapech
You’ve joined WFP during challenging times (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic). Can you share a little bit about the challenges you faced during those times and how you overcame them?
While I joined towards the end of the pandemic, where government restrictions had just lifted, one of the first things I needed to do was to revisit the original evaluation plans and re-design the upcoming midterm evaluations since the planned activities had either not been implemented or had been repurposed to meet the immediate needs during the pandemic.
For example, for our School Feeding programme, schools had been closed for more than a year, halting majority of the originally planned activities. Therefore, it did not make sense to move ahead with evaluating the effectiveness criteria with the original programme indicators. However, school meals had been repurposed into take-home rations, so it was meaningful for the evaluation to review the relevance of the targeting criteria of the take-home rations and the extent to which this modality had supported household food security in the time of crisis. It was my job as the evaluation manager to amend the evaluation design to conduct the correct quantitative data comparison, while expanding the scope of the evaluation to include a qualitative review of the relevance and sustainability criteria – and negotiating with the donor and the evaluation team to move ahead with the new design.
Children at this WFP-supported school in Bos Thom, Cambodia, receive daily school meals. Photo: WFP/Samantha Reinders

How do you approach M&E at the Cambodia Country Office level? What are some of the priorities, goals, and what you like doing the most ?
The Cambodia office is in a unique and critical juncture, where the office is shifting away from direct implementation to technical assistance to the Government of Cambodia. There is high-demand from the government for M&E systems strengthening, which is why in the upcoming few years, our team’s priority is to increasingly deliver successful M&E technical assistance to our government partners. As this work needs to be conducted in tandem to monitoring of on-going direct implementation – albeit winding down – our team’s priority is to find innovative ways to make the monitoring work more efficient and lighter for the team so that we can focus on the technical assistance work.

What are some qualities needed for someone who works in M&E at a humanitarian agency ?
M&E is truly a cross-function, where dialogue between the various programme teams about their data and evidence needs is of utmost importance. Our team always get works requests from all sides, so it has been my priority as the manager of such a cross-functional team, to ensure the usefulness and timeliness of the data/evidence product before the team starts working on them.
While it may sound simple, accurately capturing the data needs of different teams through effective consultations, then mapping out what the team should (or should not) focus on based on the usefulness/timeliness of data and the resources of our team, then finally managing the team’s workplan to ensure the timely delivery and utilization of the evidence products – I think is truly an artful skill, one that I am still working on.
I think anyone who aspires to be working in M&E should have 1 relational skills to be able to liaise with various teams on their evidence needs, manage expectations and ensure timely, use of data 2) robust understanding on methodologies to ensure relevant, reliable, accurate data is captured 3) an eye for details that is needed for tracking progress 4) generally, I think curiosity is a key attribute to an M&E person as well, which enables a wide array of data collected, which may inform the programme on unexpected, unintended results
Can you share a few tips on how to pursue a similar career? Which studies, how to build your resume with interesting experiences…
There is no one way into M&E and my story is a testament to that. However, it does require a well-rounded person, who has technical and sectoral knowledge to have an understanding of what is meaningful to measure in the sector-specific programme. It also requires project management skills for managing outsourced evaluations or data collection, and strong communication skills, especially relational skills!

Source : FAO

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