Resonance is pleased to announce the publication of our research report to culminate the Cooperative Research Support Services activity, entitled “Indicators to Measure the Economic Sustainability and Patronage Value of Agricultural Cooperatives: Research and Recommendations” (please see the publication here).

USAID contracted Resonance to propose and justify two indicators to measure the impact of assistance to agricultural cooperatives: one indicator for financial sustainability and one indicator for patronage value, or the benefit that individuals receive for being cooperative members. This task was particularly challenging due to the diversity of cooperative experiences across the globe, which makes it difficult to develop widely applicable definitions and metrics, and the limited administrative capacity of many of the agricultural cooperatives with which USAID works.

Resonance employed a mixed method approach to identify, filter, test, and assess these indicators. This approach included extensive literature review, key informant interviews with agricultural cooperatives in Guatemala and Kenya as well as subject matter experts and USAID implementing partners in the U.S. and Europe, and survey of subject matter experts. In the absence of an industry standard for designing and testing indicators, Resonance developed an indicator rating approach that helped filter through scores of indicators based on data gathered through stakeholder interviews.

Additionally, Resonance assessed the indicators based on Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation (PM&E) principles, with a focus on the utility of the indicators to the agricultural cooperatives and the ability of target organizations themselves to collect, report on, and make use of the data. The PM&E lens is aimed at making the process of designing and utilizing indicators a form of building local capacity in the vein of USAID Forward, a strategy within which local organizations develop the ability to increasingly engage with the Agency as implementing partners. Resonance’s approach has the potential to advance USAID Forward in that, based on our indicator recommendations, the cooperatives can feel invested in the design of the project and think critically about the effects of USAID assistance.

So, now what? There are several noteworthy next steps that arose from this research. First, during the final presentation to USAID, the report appeared to spark important conversation among the researchers and various USAID stakeholders around how to continue to strengthen the M&E and impact of assistance to agricultural cooperatives. Second, given the objectives of USAID Forward, it will be interesting to explore opportunities to incorporate PM&E principles into other types of activities where target organizations or individuals can assume ownership over the indicator development and reporting process. Third, there appears to be an ongoing opportunity to leverage information and communications technology to inform M&E around cooperative development and other USAID agriculture activities through self-reported data. This capability may be particularly important for indicators regarding small farmer perception of cooperative management, which may be costly or difficult to ascertain through face-to-face surveys due to sensitivities within cooperatives. We are looking forward to leveraging the methodologies and experiences from the Cooperative Research Support Services activity in the future, whether with cooperatives or other areas in which Resonance has supported M&E for foreign assistance, such as the security sector.