The purpose of project identification is to develop a preliminary proposal for the most appropriate set of interventions and course of action, within specific time and budget frames, to address a specific development goal in a particular region or setting. Investment ideas can arise from many sources and contexts. They can originate from a country’s sector plan, programme or strategy, as follow-up of an existing project or from priorities identified in a multi-stakeholder sector or local development dialogue. Identification involves:
- A review of alternative approaches or options for addressing a set of development problems and opportunities;
- The definition of project objectives and scope of work at the degree of detail necessary to justify commitment of the resources for detailed formulation and respective preparatory studies; and
- The identification of the major issues that must be tackled and the questions to be addressed before a project based on the concept can be implemented.
Sufficient information on project options must be gathered to enable the government and financing agencies to select a priority project and reach agreements among stakeholders on arrangements for preparation work, including setting up steering committees or national preparation teams. The results of identification work should be summarized in a report, project brief or concept document, the format of which will depend upon the government’s and/or financing agencies’ requirements.
Why Project identification matters?
Good identification is critical to project success. If there is insufficient focus on expected results, or if the potential of the most viable concepts has been overlooked at the identification phase, there is little prospect that they will be retrieved at a later stage, when the emphasis shifts from examining options to elaborating the details of a specific proposal. It can be costly and difficult to abort or radically revise a concept once preparation is underway. Pressure to proceed rapidly with project formulation, which can come from both governments and financing institutions, can lead to settling quickly on a specific concept before sufficient evidence has been assembled to confirm its validity. Many design-related problems encountered during implementation are the result of poor diagnosis of constraints, overly ambitious targets, time schedules and productivity projections, and insufficient scrutiny of political buy-in for the concept and institutional capacity issues. Consultation and involvement of stakeholders at the identification stage is essential to ensure appropriate concept selection and increase prospects for successful implementation and – ultimately – sustainability. Concept consideration needs to focus clearly on expected results and these should determine the appropriate interventions. In practice, concepts often start with ideas for interventions, and it is important to rapidly focus the view on expected result. Project ideas may arise from national strategies or plans, emerging needs or findings from evidence based analysis, evaluation findings and opportunities for scaling up.
Major Steps in Identification
Major steps in identification, many of which will be pursued concurrently in the identification process, are:
- Review of the national and sectoral analyses, plans and priorities of both the government and the potential financing agency – for overall context and to identify overall goals and outcomes to pursue;
- Social analysis – understanding the socio-economic context, and examining the dynamics of rural livelihoods, social diversity and gender in the context of agriculture and rural development;
- Stakeholder analysis – assessment of relevant stakeholders and institutions and their respective interests, roles and capacities to inform definition of outcomes and interventions. Mapping stakeholders can be a helpful analytical exercise, but care should be taken that preliminary analysis does not cement a status quo at the expense of developing a common vision for change;
- Diagnosis and preliminary assessments of technical, institutional or socio-economic constraints and opportunities. Diagnosis of the underlying causes of the problems – for instance, by using a problem tree approach – and of the factors which underpin the opportunities;
- Preliminary definition of envisaged results of the investment, and overall project logic in a draft results framework;
- The definition of clear project objectives and related metrics is important to focus the discussion. The exact wording will be refined throughout design. It should capture the essence of the concept and what the project will actually be able to achieve;
- Review of alternative possible solutions or development strategies;
- Review and assessment of relevant past and current development efforts and projects in the same or related fields or geographic area, considering the evidence base and lessons learned, in particular from evaluations of relevance to the present context;
- Preliminary financial and economic analysis;
- Consideration of major cross-cutting issues such as climate change, gender, nutrition and governance, and delineation of how they will influence project scope and strategy.
Professional bias is a common problem in identification, as experts tend to focus on solution paths linked to their particular area of expertise. The identification team needs to have the breadth of expertise to be able to identify and undertake a preliminary screening of major alternatives. Further, close consultation with relevant stakeholders in the identification process at national and local levels is essential in order to ensure not only that identification draws upon the best available information (evidence base), but also that the evolving concept will reflect stakeholder concerns and aspirations, and that there is clear political and institutional buy-in to pursue a project with the envisaged focus. As early as possible the formulation team should also initiate contacts at field level with potential participants and beneficiaries of the proposed investment and with the stakeholders at community level. Encouraging active stakeholder participation in the identification process will also create buy-in, which enhances prospects of implementation success and sustainability.
A participatory workshop focusing on the results framework, using the logframe planning methodology or a similar approach, is a useful method for harnessing resources and bringing together the perspectives of all stakeholders. This can effectively define stakeholders’ needs, set project objectives and the related project interventions, and promote understanding of the distribution of implementation responsibilities. It can also be used to identify knowledge gaps requiring further research and field survey and to assess likely resource availability and institutional capacity and community perceptions.
Social analysis is most useful if it feeds into the identification process rather than being invoked at a later stage, as insights may have a determining influence on priorities and the approach to be pursued. Where detailed social analysis cannot be undertaken at identification because of time or resource constraints, the team must draw upon the best and most relevant existing analysis available, and identify priority areas for more detailed analysis during preparation.