Baseline surveys are done before a project kicks off; to act as a benchmark for measuring project success or failure.
Why baseline surveys are vital for any project:
- Pre-kickoff:Through the results from a baseline study, which is important during inception of any project preparation stage, a baseline survey serves as a benchmark for subsequent project activities.
- Priority planning:This is especially true when a project has several objectives. The results of a baseline study can show when/if some aspects of a project need more focus than others.
- Impact assessment:Without a baseline, it’s impossible to know the impact of a project. A baseline study informs what impact the project has had on the target community.
- Tools value:The tools used during a baseline study are the same tools used during evaluation. Conducting a baseline saves on time and resources required during evaluation.
- Donor requirement: Since M&E is integral for any donor to establish future project success, they always compel implementing organizations to carry out baseline studies.
Alternatives for baseline studies
If a project is underway and a baseline wasn’t conducted, implementers may consider conducting a study to act as a baseline. However, if at the end of a project there was no baseline study conducted, there are a few alternatives to consider for the purpose of measuring project success.
- Using previous studies by other agencies including national surveys and sectoral survey.
- Another alternative is to identify a group with homogeneous characteristics to the project target population and conduct a study on the two groups.
Additional considerations when conducting baseline studies
- Indicators: To help in designing of the questionnaire and in determining evaluation indicators. The type of indicators could also dictate the type of data to collect and how the analysis of the data will be done.
- Study population and sampling: The study population is most often the project target population. Establishing the boundary so as to ensure the sample is only limited to the target population is important. Also related is the sampling procedure.
- Partners: Sometimes it’s necessary to involve other organizations in the baseline survey. This is especially viable if “similar” projects share a starting timeline and share a target group, most often by projects sharing a donor. This saves costs and increases confidence in the baseline results.
- Funds: Availability of funds dictates the intensity and scope of the baseline study.
While it can be confusing to differentiate a baseline study and a pilot study, these two are not synonymous. A pilot study, attempts to establish whether it is feasible to undertake a project – studies are undertaken to identify or verify a project idea – this happens before the baseline study.