New Ways of Seeing Change


A picture says a thousand words.  That’s the saying, at least, and there’s reason why.  We can relate to and interpret pictures.  When looking at side-by-side pictures of the same town taken 100-years apart, it is clear and interesting to see how some things have changed and how others have stayed the same.  But how do you show change over time for things less physical?  How do you document changes in norms and values, as opposed to buildings and infrastructure? A challenge inherent in most lines of work is to know if what you’re doing actually makes a difference.  Without the ability to take actual photographs to show change, surveys and various questionnaire instruments and tools are used to track and measure change.  Census data, for instance, allows us to see how and where populations move, and changes in demographics, among other things. 

In the field of international education and development, often change is measured by easily tangible and traceable measures such as the number of classrooms built, the number of textbooks handed out, or the student-to-teacher ratio.  While these certainly tell a story, they leave many questions unanswered.  For example, even if a school has classrooms, are there trained teachers to lead classes?  Are parents supportive of sending their children to school?  If the answer to either of these is no, we may have empty classrooms.  Even if schools are given adequate textbooks, are they in a language the students can read?  Are they distributed to students, or kept locked away and protected for future classes because teachers don’t know how long it will be until they receive new textbooks?  Even if classrooms have low student-to-teacher ratios, are the teachers equipped to provide a quality and inclusive educational environment?  Do they treat girl and boy students equitably?  Do they work with parents and community members to ensure all children attend school regularly?

In order to capture more detailed and informational pictures of the change we see over time in our education programs at CARE, we have developed three unique measurement tools.  These permit deeper and more meaningful changes to be addressed and documented on a long-term basis.  Change doesn’t occur over night, so we need ways to measure the things we’re interested in over long periods of time.  These have been carefully created, tested, and revised, ensuring they provide quality and clear results that both tell the story of change as well as inform current and future education projects. 

Specifically, the Common Indicator Framework provides an inclusive framework for project design and measurement that uses 12 indicators to assess change across four domains: educational quality, attainment, equality, and empowerment.  The Youth Leadership Index measures changes in perceptions of leadership (the 5 dimensions of which include: voice, decision-making, self-confidence, organization, and vision/ability to motivate others) amongst youth.  Finally, the Gender Equitable Index measures changes in perceptions of gender equality amongst children, youth, and adults. 


Each of these tools have been tested across multiple CARE projects and refined through a process of intense review and statistical testing.  To date, they have been referenced as key measurement tools by various Universities, researchers, and agencies such as the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI). 

Asking the right questions enables the development of clear pictures regarding the impact of our work.  This allows us to dedicate more time and energy to making the most meaningful change, enabling girls and boys around the world to enjoy their education.

By: Amanda Moll, CARE USA