Assess to Address: let #IFADMPAT take a clear picture for you

by Valeria Smarrini

Let's say you are concerned with rural poverty alleviation. Maybe you are a government official, or you are doing research, or you just had a brilliant idea and you want to design a project. Maybe your project is already up and running, and you want to be sure it is working properly. Maybe you work in IFAD: in this case, rural poverty is something you are certainly very familiar with.

Options on how to tackle rural development are copious. To make things even more exciting, the whole background of development cooperation is entering a brand new era, as post-2015 is fast approaching and different scenarios are emerging, which focus on different actors, responsibilities, and targets at all levels of ambition.

The thing about rural poverty is that, very often, it just plain complicated. It involves many dimensions, and each and every one of them is very deeply connected to all the others. Look at this from the outside: you pull a thread somewhere and, if you don't really know what you are doing, maybe this will cause some other part of the structure to collapse. Knowing that, you don't really want to experiment when it comes to people's livelihoods.

Let's not be discouraged, though – solutions do exist, and can be found. And this is not a needle-in-a-haystack type of research. What would really be helpful here is a flashlight or, even better, a map.

IFAD happens to have launched a promising tool today, the Multidimensional Poverty Assessment Tool (MPAT), which has been metaphorically described as a 'roadmap', or a 'dashboard' to better grasp the reality and dynamics of rural poverty, right at its origin: rural villages and households.

MPAT was first custom-designed in 2007, and it received feedback from international experts in various sectors of development through several round of fine-tuning. A beta version of the tool was then developed, tested with some further tweaking and training, evaluated from the European Commission, peer-reviewed by the academic community, and piloted.

The tool is really quite simple to operate. You have your survey templates at the household and village level, a fairly straightforward Excel sheet that does the maths when it's fed with raw data from the survey, and aggregate results for ten different components, spanning from basic needs, such as food security, to equality issues like gender. The idea is to see how these ten dimensions are doing and to also check whether an enabling environment is in place.
Innovation lies in the fact that the tool is based on the needs and the assets of smallholder farmers, and the dimensions it takes into account are all, undeniably, at the core of the rural development debate.
Actually, MPAT does more: it collects perceptions right in the households and villages where the effort to raise people out of poverty begins and ends.

Perceptions are subjective statements, one may argue? Yes, they are. But subjective sounds a lot more like objective when it comes out of those who are the object of the whole rural development effort. So, information obtained through this exercise may be subject to some degree of simplification, but the proxies can certainly be useful in defining priorities, which is a very honest thing to do when dealing with a complex situation. I will steal the words of Alasdair Cohen, project manager of the IFAD Management Team for 2012-2013 MPAT finalization, and say that this tool allows us to "look at qualitative data through a quantitative lens."

See how MPAT can be used as a flashlight, or a map?

And, by the way, it seems to be working. Feedback was shared during the event from colleagues from the Kenya-based NGO Nuru International and IFAD's ProPESCA project in Mozambique – and it was encouraging feedback in both cases.

I will admit I joined the event asking myself why another tool to deal with impact, and soon found myself asking "why not?". I can definitely see this at work for the development community at large, to draft roadmaps to inform decision-making and resource allocation, develop meaningful indicators, design compelling projects that go straight to the point and, last but definitely not least, claim evidence exactly where evidence is needed.