Measuring Self-reliance

Electricity went out--quick fix, Community Data Presentation, Champiti Epicenter, Oct 2015 (3)

The Hunger Project defines self-reliance to be when community members are confident and have the capacity and skills to act as agents of their own development. A community demonstrates its self-reliance by showing progress in the eight goals of our gender-focused, community-led development approach, the Epicenter Strategy.

The measure of community self-reliance is based on indicators that evaluate progress in all integrated, epicenter-level program areas. This diverse set of indicators (about 50) measure program outputs (the immediate results of each activity), outcomes (the changes in communities as a result of the interventions) and impacts (long-term widespread changes) in order to assess each epicenter’s path to sustainability.

In order to measure self-reliance, three elements are required: indicators (a guide to what information should be examined), data (the information itself) and targets (thresholds that we expect to see met by the data). More on each below.


As noted, the indicators used to measure self-reliance include program outputs, outcomes and impacts in order to assess each epicenter’s path to sustainability.

The data on these indicators is collected through a number of streams: quarterly data collection, annual “snapshots,” (operational programs assessment) and household surveys from outcome evaluations every three to five years. Each indicator has a weight: Outputs  = 1 point; Outcomes = 2 points; Impacts = 3 points, and The Hunger Project uses those weights to calculate a self-reliance score for each epicenter. This score is a single number, presented in percentage terms, that shows the percent of targets the community has met. An epicenter has to achieve a score of 80% or higher to reach self-reliance.

Download the list of indicators (PDF).

Data Collection

By gathering and analyzing data from epicenter communities, The Hunger Project, with trained volunteers from the community, can determine whether an epicenter is building and reinforcing the skills and behaviors that empower the community to lead their continued development. Additionally, as a learning organization, this information allows The Hunger Project to corroborate – or adjust – its Theory of Change as needed, ensuring that its understanding of how change is wrought adheres to the real experience of the epicenter communities.

As an organization grounded in grassroots advocacy and international development from the bottom up, The Hunger Project takes a different approach to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) that empowers participants in our programs as both collectors and consumers of data, through participatory monitoring and evaluation methods. The goal of our participatory M&E system is to recognize what works, what does not work, and why, and create a feedback loop that directly connects our project performance with community expectations and goals. Find out more about the Participatory M&E approach.

Target Setting

Targets are needed to understand how much progress an epicenter has made in any given indicator area. It is not expected that any epicenter has met all of its needs. Rather, as expressed by definition of self-reliance, The Hunger Project expects epicenters to demonstrate progress towards meeting those needs. Targets are a way to clarify what is meant by “demonstrated progress,” and to clearly state expectations.

Absolute Targets

Some self-reliance indicators are absolute, meaning that they are either met or unmet, with no in-between progress. For example, “Presence of an electrical connection” is an absolute indicator: either the connection exists (“yes”) or it does not (“no”). There is no partial credit in absolute indicators, meaning that when calculating self-reliance scores, an epicenter will only receive points for this indicator if the target is achieved. For any absolute self-reliance indicator, the target is “yes” by default. The understanding is that the only way to demonstrate progress in absolute indicators is to meet them.

Although all absolute indicators have a target of “yes,” an epicenter does not need to meet every single one to declare itself self-reliant. Therefore, it is possible that an epicenter scores “no” on some absolute targets, but has still made enough overall progress to obtain a score of 80% or higher. The only exceptions are required indicators, which are the epicenter land deed and its legal recognition; these indicators must be met in order for an epicenter to be declared self-reliant.

Target Ranges

Most self-reliance indicators are not absolute; they seek to track a positive trend. These indicators capture information about how an epicenter is progressing given its own context and efforts. Because The Hunger Project’s programs in Africa comprise a diverse selection of eight countries and over a million people from very different communities, some indicators have a target range.

A target range ensures that each epicenter demonstrates progress, but lower- and higher-performing epicenters can both still qualify.

For some ranges, the maximum target is set at less than 100% so that epicenter communities do not set unrealistic expectations for the time frame, and so that investments can be guided strategically toward the areas where they will make the greatest impact. For example, increasing the proportion of individuals using a health clinic during illness from 95% to 100% may be costly and only produce a few additional visits within the community. However, increasing the proportion of households with knowledge of exclusive breastfeeding practices from 75% to 80% could be less costly, yet result in generations of babies receiving better nutrition during their first 1,000 days. By determining strategic limits for some targets, epicenter communities can focus on investing in areas that still need significant improvement.

Target ranges are determined considering a variety of factors:

  • Internal research that maps all available data within existing epicenters, and which points to high-performing epicenters as models.
  • International norms and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including targets on hunger and poverty
  • Consideration of scope around the scale of resources and time of the partnership with The Hunger Project.

The target-setting process for each community involved discussion and negotiation among community leaders, local Hunger Project staff and the Global Office team. The ultimate owners of the targets are the communities themselves.

Data Transparency

In our Africa Program Countries, communities hold meetings one to four times per year where M&E Animators report to their communities on activities over the previous three months. “General assemblies” are held every year in program communities as well. These meetings are open to all community members, and during these sessions M&E Animators report on the year’s progress against the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the year. Participants use this information to discuss and assess the year’s performance, and set targets for the upcoming year. During “Community Data Presentations,” the results from outcome evaluations are presented to community members. Find out more about community data presentations.

“Transparency Boards” post information on the planning, performance, and financial status of activities on a central building in the community. This is a powerful tool for accountability, empowering community members to follow up with leaders at any time regarding their concerns and allowing them to arrive at quarterly and annual meetings already armed with information. Find out more about transparency boards.

 Watch a video on transparency boards:


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Promoting Self-reliance in Communities Worldwide

The Epicenter Strategy in Africa