IDS and Fundación Paraguaya have this month signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), cementing the growing relationship and collaboration between both organisations. Fundación Paraguaya is a Paraguayan non-governmental organization renowned globally for its work around social entrepreneurship and poverty elimination.
The Poverty Stoplight
The Poverty Stoplight is a tool that seeks to activate the potential of families and communities to lift themselves out of poverty. Using a technology platform, it offers a self-assessment survey and intervention model that enables people to develop practical solutions to overcome their specific needs. Program staff work directly with families in vulnerable communities to evaluate poverty levels across a variety of dimensions and indicators. The tool has been employed in close to 50 countries globally, with populations as diverse as Paraguayan microfinance clients, people experiencing homelessness in California, or small-scale farmers in Honduras.
Fundación Paraguaya’s innovative work on the Poverty Stoplight methodology has created ripples across the world of participatory poverty programming, and this new MOU recognises the long-standing collaboration with IDS, centred around participatory methodology research.
The rigour and deep thought that went into developing the Poverty Stoplight methodology that Fundación Paraguaya pioneered is unusual in our world of often fast paced development programming. When first developed in 2009, its dimensions, indicators, and definitions emerged from an extensive listening exercise in which Fundación Paraguaya staff travelled across Paraguay to listen to women microfinance clients talk about their views of poverty. Fundación Paraguaya sees the methodology not only as helping understand and measure multi-dimensional poverty from the perspective of the people poverty programming aims to serve, but also as an intervention in its own right.
Collaboration through research
The research and methodological development team at Fundación Paraguaya has spent a lot of time and energy thinking about what makes the Stoplight effective and how to provide guidance and support to international partners in adapting the tool to their needs. The doctoral research of IDS students Juan Pane Solis and Marie Claire Burt (co-founders of COLMENA) has continued the tradition of deep thought building into Fundación Paraguaya’s programming by further investigating the Stoplight methodology. Juanqui’s doctoral research focused on understanding the process of empowerment in the context of the micro-finance programming of Fundacion Paraguaya. Marie Claire’s research is focusing on the role of mentorship in poverty programming. A lot has been learnt over the years – but there are some essential challenges that remain unresolved.
One of these challenges is the complex nature of the Poverty Stoplight methodology. At the time of writing, there are over 420 organisations using the tool, and just as many variations of the methodology. Each context, each user group, each way of supporting Poverty Stoplight participants is unique, and thus, in the spirit of a participatory, locally co-designed program, has its own processes and variation of objectives. But how are we to evaluate a methodology that defies standardisation? How are we to capture the richness of the global Poverty Stoplight movement in a way that avoids top-down (over-)simplifications but celebrates bottom-up diversity? How are we to understand what truly matters for the Poverty Stoplight to be implemented successfully, when social innovation with regard to how to use the tool is ingrained in the methodology?
Looking to the future
IDS and Fundación Paraguaya now have the opportunity to work in an academic-practitioner partnership to look across the many applications of the Poverty Stoplight through the Fundación Paraguaya-facilitated network. Together the two organisations will aim to critically engage with and build a robust evidence base on how participatory methodologies as interventions build critical and collective agency and contribute to poverty reduction and systems change. Combining IDS’ work on evaluation of participatory methodologies as interventions using theory based and participatory evaluation methodologies with Fundación Paraguaya’s existing research, evidence base and relationships with 47 partners in a diversity of countries is an example of a partnerships driven research for development.
Katharina Hammler from Fundación Paraguaya said:
“We are very excited about the opportunity to work with Marina Apgar and Mieke Snijder from the Institute of Development Studies to learn more about how exactly the Stoplight works, for whom, and under what circumstances.
This collaboration will allow us to take a step back and think about impact evaluation from a new perspective. It will enrich our understanding of what the true essence of the Poverty Stoplight is, and provide a structured yet flexible framework within which to analyse what we know and what we still need to learn. We are excited to work with renowned international experts on a topic so close to our institutional heart.”