Last week we referred to a publication “What We Know About Exit – Practical Guidance For Developing Exit Strategies in the Field” of the C-SAFE Regional Learning Spaces Initiative* by Alison Gardner, Kara Greenblott and Erika Joubert.
We saw that a program “exit” refers to the withdrawal of all externally provided program resources from an entire program area. A program exit may refer to the withdrawal of external support from an entire program area, or it may address the withdrawal of support from communities or districts within a program area. It could also refer to the end of a program funding cycle, with an extension through a follow-on extended recovery program or a longer-term development program. And lastly, it may include a combination of withdrawal, program extension or transition. A program Exit Strategy is a plan describing how the program intends to withdraw its resources while ensuring that achievement of the program goals (relief or development) is not jeopardized and that progress towards these goals will continue. The goal of an Exit Strategy is to ensure the sustainability of impacts after a program ends. It could also be defined in a broader sense as a program’s ‘sustainability strategy’, which could be accomplished through staggered graduation from specific project areas, simultaneous withdrawal from the entire program area, or transitioning to associated programming in selected areas.
Three basic approaches to Exit Strategies were outlined below. They are: 1) phasing down, 2) phasing out, and 3) phasing over.
PHASING DOWN. Phasing down is a gradual reduction of program activities, utilizing local organizations to sustain program benefits while the original sponsor (or implementing agency or donor) deploys fewer resources. Phasing down is often a preliminary stage to phasing over and/or phasing out.
PHASING OUT. This refers to a sponsor’s withdrawal of involvement in a program without turning it over to another institution for continued implementation. Ideally a program is phased out after permanent or self-sustaining changes are realized, thus eliminating the need for additional external inputs.
PHASING OVER. The third type of Exit Strategy approach is ‘phasing over’. In this case, a sponsor transfers program activities to local institutions or communities. During program design and implementation, emphasis is placed on institutional capacity building so that the services provided can continue through local organizations.
Now, Criteria used to determine when to exit programs vary. However, they can be grouped into three general categories.
Time Limit: Relief, recovery and development programs all have time limits dictated by funding cycles. Time limits may increase a program’s focus in establishing systems of sustainability or they may impose artificial timing constraints.
Achievement of program impacts: Although achieving the intended program impact is often difficult within a given timeframe (and may even create perverse incentives), indicators of program impact can sometimes be used as exit criteria. Impact indicators can be used to focus program “graduation” efforts on the more self-reliant communities or the effective program components. Lastly, impact indicators can help inform and guide the Exit Strategy time line.
Achievement of Benchmarks: Benchmarks are defined as the measurable indicators of identified steps in the graduation process of an Exit Strategy. They are part of the Monitoring and Evaluation planning matrix from the onset. Benchmarks should be linked to the graduation process and to the program components to be phased out or over.
Establishing an exit timeline that is linked to the program funding cycle, and clearly communicated
to the community is essential. Since program implementation will influence Exit Strategy activities, it
is important that the exit plan remains flexible with the expectation that some of the exit criteria and
benchmarks may need to be modified during the program cycle.
Further, implementing exit plans in a gradual, phased manner is recommended, as the staggered
graduation of project sites can contribute to sustained outcomes by applying lessons learned from
earlier sites to those that come later. Lastly, after phase over or program phase out is complete,
continued contact with communities will help to support sustainability of outcomes.
Ongoing and timely monitoring of benchmarks is critical to the successful implementation of Exit
Strategies. The monitoring of Exit Strategy benchmarks should, in fact, be integrated into the overall program’s monitoring and evaluation plan. This will prevent duplication of monitoring efforts and maximize use of existing data. While ‘process indicators’ are helpful to gauge the program or local partner’s progress along a developed continuum, ‘result indicators’ may help to graduate communities or to assess readiness to phase out programs. An example of a process indicator in a home-based care program may be the number of household visits conducted by the local partner, whereas a result indicator would be the improvement in nutritional awareness by the
home based care client and household. To determine the success of an Exit Strategy, an
evaluation should be conducted after a period of time has elapsed following the program exit.
*The C-SAFE Regional Learning Spaces is an Initiative by CARE, World Vision, CRS, ADRA and USAID.