Evaluation of Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF) programme

NFER Senior Education and International Development Specialists, Jessica Chu and Jenny Price

Friday 20 November 2020

In September 2019, NFER was commissioned to conduct the independent endline evaluation of the third phase of the Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF III). The CSEF programme was founded in 2009 as a means to support civil society to hold governments accountable in education sector policy planning. The programme is primarily funded through the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and is managed by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), a global movement of civil society organisations that campaign for the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.

CSEF entered its third phase in 2016, in which it supported civil society national education coalitions (NECs) in 63 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean. NECs were provided with funding, capacity building and training, and technical support and accompaniment in order to participate in and organise advocacy and research activities, strengthen membership, and take part in policy mechanisms at the national, regional and global levels. Ultimately, the goal of the programme was to contribute to a better informed national policy dialogue and strengthened government accountability to citizens for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) for equitable, inclusive and quality education.

As evaluators, our role was to both document and reflect on the outcomes achieved during CSEF III, as well as to identify lessons to support the GCE movement going forward. We used a combination of Outcome Harvesting (OH) and a process evaluation approach for the evaluation. OH is a participatory and inclusive evaluation approach used to capture outcomes and learnings. As part of the OH, we used multiple-rounds of data collection involving all the NECs participating in the programme, as well as programme partners at both the regional and global levels. We conducted an extensive review of programme monitoring data, held two (virtual) stakeholder workshops, administered an online survey spanning across 63 different countries in five different languages, and conducted five case studies. This process was supplemented by 29 stakeholder interviews to better understand programme design and implementation.

Our evaluation found that the programme was successful in achieving its intended objective. The programme was most successful in mobilising the public, as well as actively engaging with and participating in global debates and events on SDG4. CSEF III demonstrated strong improvement throughout the course of the programme in areas of improving its diversity and representation of the most marginalised, in actively participating in key national education sector policy processes and in engaging citizens in policy-related research. Our evaluation also identified several unintended outcomes, which helped to shed light on how the programme, through NECs, was able to achieve results.

Our findings can be translated into seven important lessons learned for both programme stakeholders and those looking to support education advocacy programmes in the future: 

  • Providing funding to support a multi-layered civil society network can be an effective way of achieving a range of positive outcomes and impact towards the achievement of SDG4.
  • In a global programme seeking to work in multiple regions and countries, regional partners play a key role in ensuring that a global programme can apply a nuanced, contextualised approach to activities at national levels.
  • In addition to contextualised activities, harnessing less tangible aspects of ‘movement building’ such as creating cohesion and ensuring coherence, can help a programme to create a multiplier effect to augment advocacy efforts.
  • Within a global programme, it is important to ensure that the programme design, activities, theory of change and monitoring are flexible enough to adapt to local contexts.
  • Building the capacity of coalitions to undertake advocacy activities requires both activity costs as well as core funding to support to human resources and staff costs.
  • To build a strong movement, there is a need for effective communications, lesson learning and information sharing horizontally across NECs.
  • Advocacy and mobilising resources also take time and require a sustained longer-term approach, which should be factored into the length of a programme.