Commissioned by the State Shared Service Centre, the Institute of Baltic Studies (IBS) in collaboration with experts from Latvia (Oxford Research Institute), has conducted a programme impact evaluation for the Interreg V-A – Estonia-Latvia Programme.
The overall goal of this evaluation was to assess whether the funds contributed by the Programme caused positive changes in the Programme area and possibly outside it. The evaluation examined why some interventions worked with the desired results and some did not, and what were / are the internal and / or external constraints that prevented the Programme from achieving the desired impact. The evaluation shall help to improve the quality of the design and implementation of Programme, as well as to assess its effectiveness, efficiency and impact. The study includes interviews with Programme management level officials and members of the monitoring committee, an online survey and interviews with funded project partners in both Estonia and Latvia.
The key finding from the evaluation is that in broad terms Estonia-Latvia programme is relevant, achieving its intended objectives and introducing impactful projects. Added value of the programme is clear, projects are contributing to sustainable activities and partnerships are being created that value cross-border cooperation. The impact on programme direct beneficiaries, i.e. project partners, has been especially strong. The Estonia-Latvia programme is, therefore, a relevant source of funding for projects in the border area and project activities have made a positive impact in the programme area. The positive impact in the programme area most prominently manifested itself on the project partner level. This is a short-term impact that has yet to manifest in the result indicators but it can be expected that in the long term these impacts could have positive spill-overs for the region. For some specific objectives, programme effects are more visible than in others, which is mostly related to the correct setting of the objective and result indicators for measuring the impact of the specific objectives.
The biggest challenges for Project partners are related to administrative processes related to project implementation and financial flows. At the same time, project partners valued highly the services and responsiveness offered by the Joint Secretariat. Internally, also the result and especially impact indicators and the methodology to assess them should be reviewed since the programme volume and funding may not be sufficient enough to introduce the intended impact in the programme area as indicated by the result indicators. This favours the narrowing the indicators to capture more direct links with the actual programme activities. External constraints are related to changing market factors and the COVID-19 crisis that occurred in early spring 2020.
Four main recommendations were drafted for the programme going forward:
- Strengthen links between indicators and the impact in the programme area.
The evaluation team recommends that the programme narrows the scope for problematic result indicators to focus more directly on project beneficiaries or include a different set of indicators that would measure the impact on the project level to create a stronger link to the programme funding.
2. Clarify the methodology for setting and measuring the results indicators in specific objectives 1.1, 1.2, 2.2A and 3.1.
The evaluation team recommends that the programme authorities clarify their methodology for measuring the performance indicators in future programming periods and to better align them with the output and impact of the projects themselves, not the impact on the target groups in general, i.e. those who do not directly benefit from project activities. Even though this may not reveal the actual share of impact of the programme in regional context and on wider statistics, it captures the results of projects and their potential long-term effect on the development in the region.
3. Consider addressing larger funding to more focused activities.
The impact of the programme may remain limited in terms of the actual regional development in the programme target area considering the limited programme budget that has been divided between four priorities and seven specific objectives. In topics which are most important in border area regional development goals clear focus and larger contribution can make more visible impact.
4. Improve and simplify the controlling procedures.
The main criticisms from project partners have been linked to burdensome reporting procedures which can be confusing and complicated for the project partners and sometimes poor financial flow of resources to project partners. To the extent that is possible, controlling procedures should be expedited to ensure timely flow of financial resources to project partners. It will be to the benefit of the programme to streamline the reporting procedures, e.g. establishing a “one-time asking rule” and improve or offer more training services or simplified guidelines for project partners.