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Four Ways to Incorporate a Gender Lens in Your Measurement and Evaluation Efforts

Across the social sector, we have seen growing interest in bringing a gender lens to social change—from foundations and nonprofits aligning to the Sustainable Development Goals to businesses looking to create shared value. As organizations deepen their gender-related programming and companies invest in gender equity, there is one question that is inevitably raised: how do we measure that?

The first thing to know about gender-sensitive measurement is that it doesn’t just apply to programs that have an explicit gender focus. It’s something that becomes a foundational aspect of an organization’s measurement and evaluation approaches across its portfolio, enabling it to address inequities in how programs are rolled out and influence different groups. The field of evaluation has a significant history of incorporating a gender lens when evaluating programs or services. As part of that momentum, practitioners have created a range of tools, such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), and guides, such as Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment. A group of practitioners has even come together to create Minimum Standards for Mainstreaming Gender Equality within programs and organizations.

FSG partners on strategic learning and evaluation projects with organizations that are at different points in the journey to incorporating such tools and practices into their work. Whether you’re a small nonprofit with limited human and financial resources, or a business starting to think about measuring the impact of a CSR effort, there are 4 ways to start incorporating gender in your measurement and evaluation efforts.

1) Disaggregate your data by sex and/or gender along the full data cycle

Collecting disaggregated data allows you to track differences in program reach, participation, and outcomes across groups. For example, if you are providing capacity building support to entrepreneurs, you might measure their businesses’ growth and find that on average, businesses grew by a certain percentage. If you did not collect sex-disaggregated data, you would likely miss a potential finding suggesting that while men’s businesses grew significantly, women’s businesses experienced little growth since they faced systemic barriers to securing additional investments.

While some data sets are only disaggregated by sex at birth, some surveys are starting to disaggregate beyond the gender binary. This not only creates a more inclusive experience for those from whom you collect data, but also sets you up to analyze the intricacies of how performance might differ across different genders and sexes. For additional context, analyze data by gender and other demographic characteristics, such as race and socio-economic status, to better understand outcome disparities within a gender group.

Collecting disaggregated data is not enough. It is critical to build this disaggregation into every aspect of your program’s lifecycle. Analyze your data on program reach, participation, and outcomes by gender to look for disparities and reveal trends. When you make strategic decisions, consider the gendered differences in your data and what you can do to improve your performance, particularly if your goal is to reduce inequities.

For example, going back to the scenario above, if one of your goals is to encourage female entrepreneurship, you might realize that you need to adapt your strategy to include a greater focus on supporting female entrepreneurs and their efforts at fundraising.

2) Use gender-sensitive measures and methods to track changes in gender equity

Tracking participation and individual outcomes is foundational to good measurement and evaluation practices. However, when you adopt a gender lens, you see that tracking changes in gender equity is just as—if not more—important to understanding whether your program is achieving its goals. As BetterEvaluation explains, “showing an increase in the number of women participants in an intervention is not the same as demonstrating gender impact.” Gender-sensitive measures target social norms and allow you to measure changes in access, status, and the relationships between different genders.

To put this into action, start by analyzing the gender norms and stereotypes that might be involved in your work, in consultation with those who have local and cultural knowledge. Then, select and/or develop indicators to assess whether these norms have changed during the life of your program.

For example, a program might focus on educating women on family planning with the intention of giving women more control over their fertility so that they have the autonomy to pursue education and/or a career. In order to measure the program’s outcomes, the implementing organization might track the number of participants, and even changes in knowledge about and plans for family planning.

However, if social norms dictate that women have less household decision-making power, including decisions about their fertility, just tracking changes in knowledge does not tell you whether there are changes in women’s power to turn that knowledge into action. Measuring changes in social norms and household decision-making would provide more insight into the dynamics that influence the effectiveness of the program.

Lastly, even if your program serves a particular group, collect data from all related groups to truly understand your program’s influence and the shifting context within which it operates. For example, for a program that serves adolescent girls, it is just as important to include and measure the perspectives of the men and boys with whom they interact in their communities in order to understand how social norms for all genders change over time.

3) Look out for and track unintended consequences

However well-intentioned, programs exist within larger, complex systems and have the potential to alter social dynamics, including within households and communities. While doing a thorough gender analysis and theory of change at the outset of the project helps to predict outcomes, there are unforeseen changes that are just as important to track, especially when they might have harmful consequences.

For example, CARE International explains how women’s empowerment efforts could upset power dynamics, potentially leading to domestic abuse. Such well-intentioned efforts may also result in community isolation, income being seized, or increased burden of household financial responsibilities. If you are only measuring the outcomes you expect to see, you might miss out on the bigger, more complex story, including such unintended negative consequences.

In your measurement and evaluation practices, integrate questions and processes that create the space for the people served by your programs to share the changes they’ve experienced—both positive and negative.

4) Collect and use qualitative data

One of the tricky things about changes in social and gender norms is that they don’t always show up in the numbers due to the longer timeline of how change occurs and differences in the way genders might define an issue. Qualitative datafrom interviews and focus groups, for examplehelp to shed light on changes that might not be captured by a survey, while also providing rich, contextual data on how and why change occurs.

Moreover, gathering qualitative data allows for greater flexibility in how questions are posed, which can help you collect data on issues in a gender-sensitive manner. For example, the Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project (GAAP), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute, created a toolkit with quantitative and qualitative methods to collect, measure, and analyze data regarding how men and women interact with assets—from land to livestock—differently. As GAAP emphasizes, “there are often important gender differences in the spectrum of asset ownership that may not be accurately captured in household surveys with predetermined answers.” Discussions with participants help to reveal gender differences in the ways they might engage with such assets, as well as the types of assets they are more likely to own—information that would not necessarily be captured by a survey.

Qualitative data can take many forms: gather feedback from the end users of your programs, collect stories and photos from your grantees or field staff, and listen to your peer organizations. Most importantly, triangulate your findings using both quantitative and qualitative data to ensure you’re coming to the right conclusions and making informed decisions.

These are just 4 of the many ways to bring a gender lens to your measurement and evaluation efforts. As you move through your journey and look for additional tips and techniques on gender-sensitive evaluation, don’t forget to rely on the wealth of resources already created by practitioners. Gender Standards, with the support of MercyCorps, has put together extensive lists of useful guides, tools, and recommendations for further reading, and the American Evaluation Association’s Topical Interest Group on Feminist Issues in Evaluation also has a comprehensive list of resources.

All programs, regardless of geography or focus area, occur in a world influenced by gender inequity. We believe that gender-sensitive evaluation can strengthen your understanding of how social norms, systemic barriers, and interpersonal dynamics interact with your work—a crucial step in creating more effective programs, and more equitable outcomes, for people of all genders.

Learn more about FSG’s Strategic Learning and Evaluation work >

Aditi Srinivasan

Consultant