A baseline assessment is an analysis of the current situation to identify the starting points for a program or project, setting a benchmark against which future progress can be assessed or comparisons made. Baseline information builds a database against which to monitor and assess a program’s feasibility, progress and effectiveness – during implementation, and after the program is completed.
Let us understand the meaning and importance of a baseline assessment with an example, i.e.: XYZ NGO is implementing a remedial education program for children in 100 Government schools in ten districts of Rajasthan.
- Baseline Assessments provide a deep and local understanding of the social problem, the target group and ground realities, identifying factors which may influence the success or failure of a program
Before initiating the program, it would be important to gain an understanding on underlying situations in terms of infrastructure and quality of teaching in schools, available tutorial programs in villages, opinions and motivations of parents and students to partake in the classes, and develop a pre-intervention narrative on the factors affecting learning of children in selected geographies. This information would enable the program strategy and design team, to consider the varied factors which affect student learning (test scores) and will ensure the program accommodates these contextual realities.
- Baseline surveys collect data on specific impact indicators to trace progress among target beneficiaries over the project’s life cycle
The goal of the program is to improve learning outcomes among students. This is going to be measured through the improvement in test scores of students. Some of the other impact indicators of the remedial education program would be student attendance in schools, enrolment in higher education, etc. A baseline survey in schools (with appropriate sampling), will enable us to get information on these indicators of beneficiaries, before they undergo the program. Baseline data puts in place the building blocks of an effective monitoring system and improves service delivery. For example, the target of the program is to achieve an average test score of 75/100 among the 10 sample schools. If average test scores is 55/100 in the baseline, and change to 60/100 after one year of the program, the team might have to revisit the program and make course corrective actions to ensure test scores improve to 75/100. To do this, the team would have to look at why test scores are not improving as estimated and what factors are inhibiting program success.
- Baseline Information provides a clear starting point for any results-based management system and enables clarity among varied stakeholders.
Baseline research enables participatory program development and consultation processes to define needs, opportunities, and priorities of stakeholders. By having concrete data on baseline assessment in education of the targeted children, an organisation will be able to properly estimate the impact of interventions, against which the results of an endline survey can be compared. The pre-post comparisons of baseline and endline data can be used to communicate about the program successes and areas of improvement with program implementers, funders, beneficiaries, school leadership, and all stakeholders who influence program results. If all stakeholders have concrete data that the program is not contributing as expected to test scores of students (as seen in the example), it will bring them together to identify external factors and implementation weaknesses, and take course corrective actions to rectify the situation.
Capturing the right information before your intervention begins, aligned to your goals and expected results, ensures the effectiveness, impact and relevance of your program in the long run. Understanding the baseline environment is therefore important in order to understand what difference the project actually makes in the short, medium and long term.
4th Wheel recognises the critical role of baseline research and results based data in strategic social impact management. We are involved with the design and implementation of multiple needs assessments, baseline studies and feasibility studies; to gather contextualized data of impact indicators matched to program design and contextual realities.