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This article is taken from the June 1999 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

Baseline studies

S&T recently completed the 'Reality Check' study for the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Independent Newspaper group. Our completion of Project Readiness Assessments for all projects being funded by the Independent Development Trust on behalf of the Department of Welfare comprises an organisational baseline. Our partners have been involved in key baseline studies in the past, in the areas of youth, health, gender and so on.

Baseline studies are critical for good monitoring systems, and for reliable evaluations. Baseline studies - whatever methods are used - provide (as their name suggests) a benchmark against which subsequent performance can be measured. As a result, baseline studies are normally quantitative.

Baseline surveys in South Africa have had a profound effect on developing our understanding of the socio-economic terrain. In all sectors of society, baseline surveys have allowed us to develop a detailed picture of what is happening. Moreover, because the baseline survey has given us a snapshot of what is happening in those sectors, the snapshot can then be compared with other snapshots taken at a later date.

In other words, the value of baseline surveys becomes more apparent over time as they allow us to measure change since the first survey. The value of measuring this change can be seen in the health sector, where the first Kaiser Family Foundation baseline survey on health inequalities was performed in 1994. A second survey was performed in 1998, which allowed researchers to compare the effectiveness and quality of the delivery of health care in 1998 with that in 1994. This comparison allowed health practitioners and policy makers to establish what had improved and what had not in the intervening four years. This information will also assist strategic planners in developing achievable goals, based on the comparisons made between the baseline study and subsequent studies.

Performance planning can also not be done without a baseline study. The baseline study provides the information that allows one to set the benchmarks against which performance can be measured. Without the baseline study the benchmarks are likely to be meaningless and not grounded in reality.

Read more about baselines, evaluation and related issues in our next newsletter.

 

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