Evaluation of financing portal for a leading global environmental fund
There is an increasing global need for funding to address global environmental issues. This is the case for scientifically well-established problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification, and emerging global environmental issues – e.g., since a seminal 2015 Science article, the issue of ocean plastic pollution has emerged high on the international environmental agenda.
Massive amounts of funding are required to tackle these issues. More importantly, the funding has to be provided to the most effective projects for addressing these problems, and the effective use of funding has to be monitored.
Scaletech, therefore, was contracted by one of the leading global environmental funds to evaluate the portal the funds use to process funding applications and monitor project progress on projects they fund. Since its creation, this organization has been crucial in sustainable finance. It has even developed and piloted unique financing methodologies to support the fight against several pressing global environmental issues financially.
Scaletech provided this evaluation based partly on background on negative user feedback the fund had received about the portal from users. Even more concerning, many of these complaints came from users from developing countries, where the impact of many global environmental problems is particularly severe. The contributions to global environmental problems (e.g., GHG emissions) are on a strong growth path, and from where the fund, therefore, needs to, particularly funding applications.
Why the portal matters
The fund’s portal provides a user-friendly online interface to submit, review, approve project and program proposals to address the most pressing global environmental challenges, and store data and documents related to implementation and results. Our evaluation assessed the extent to which the portal is meeting its objectives.
Sources used include a review of relevant board documents, publications by the fund’s management team, previous evaluations conducted on the fund, interviews of key staff, an online survey of the funds’ staff and users of the portals, and an observation-based survey of peer portals.
Scaletech found that: The Portal has enhanced the online project proposal submission and review capabilities of the environmental fund partnership. The portal creates a clear trail of who, what, and when of a given action to facilitate accountability.
Overall, the portal has improved data quality – especially in the more recent projects – through increased automation and arrangements to ensure data entry discipline. However, some errors in data outputs were noted. The portal has streamlined the submission process of project implementation reports, mid-term reviews, and terminal evaluation, encouraging discipline in data entry by requiring complete data for the preceding stage to move to the next stage and reducing errors through auto validation checks and data entry menu options.
The portal is easy to navigate, visually appealing, and accessible and compares well with its peers on these criteria. However, most the Portal users – especially those from the Agencies – perceive the quality of the portal to be lower than that of other portals that they use. The portal has a simplified professional design with strong logic. Web pages are well composed and with a clean layout. The icons used in the web pages are simple, elegant, and consistent.
The evaluation assessed the portal’s performance with three other peer portals and found that the portal compares well with peer portals in navigation, visual appeal, and accessibility. The user perception of ease of navigation and use of webpages is varied and linked with the frequency of usage – those who use it more often have a more favorable perception of it than those who don’t – and based on the user group type.
The portal is much more developed than when it was first launched, and the user experience has improved. However, there are several areas where the portal needs to be developed further. These include developing a system of alerts and ensuring that the calculations presented in the Portal data outputs and reports are correct, as evidenced by a survey conducted with portal stakeholders, including users, operators, and managers (see chart below).
Users perceive a need for a transparent process to collect information on problems, prioritize problems, and report on the progress in addressing them. Although users’ initial experience with the portal was disappointing (including numerous low-level glitches), several interviewees noted more recent improvements are providing at least the minimum required level of expected services. A remaining important task is to improve clarity in the approach used to identify and prioritize problems in the portal.
Connectivity is a significant concern for many users. For many users, recurrent issues related to logging in, connection losses, and “silent logouts” caused by the page timing out led to wasted effort. These challenges become more acute when there is heavy use of the portal, such as around deadlines. There is also a bandwidth-related constraint that disproportionately affects users in the least developed countries and remote areas.Source: online survey designed by Scaletech for stakeholders to the portal. Actual response options and scales have been condensed to facilitate presentation. All responses are on a six-point scale, with 6 representing highly satisfactory performance and 1 representing highly unsatisfactory performance, 6-4 representing the satisfactory range, and 3-1 the unsatisfactory range.
The portal is improved over its predecessor and compares well with its peer portals on some technical parameters. The portal has substantially achieved its objectives related to enhancement in project review and processing abilities, capturing of information in a consistent format, integration of the fund’s programming strategies and policies into the portal, tracking of results of the fund’s activities, and enhanced transparency, and safeguarding of confidential information.
At the same time, its performance is mixed in terms of taxonomy and tagging, search and analytical abilities, and real-time availability of data to external stakeholders. Other gaps in performance include a lack of ability to download batches of documents, a lack of capability to send project cycle-related auto-alerts through emails, and errors in data outputs.
There is a need to provide further attention to addressing the needs of the users, who share the bulk of the burden due to the portal but to whom the benefits so far have not been as tangible. An overarching concern is the slow development of the portal – almost three years after its launch, the portal is perceived as a work in progress. The Portal team has linked the slow development of the portal to the limited resources that they have to work with. We recommended a review of fund management to determine whether additional support is needed and the extent to which more rapid portal development can be encouraged.
Both the benefits introduced by the portal, compared to its predecessors and the improvement possibilities identified through this evaluation represent a chance to leverage better environmental fund management. Thus, to the extent that operations within the organization are streamlined and improved, it will be possible to ensure better support for applicants and implementing stakeholders. This, in turn, allows the organization to streamline its activities on focus topics of pressing environmental issues, such as climate change, biodiversity, land degradation, food security, and sustainable cities, just to mention a few.