Research Tools and Approaches

CRS-Sierra Leone conducted its research from March 2009 to March 2010, and Floresta from April 2009 to March 2010. Both used a number of different approaches to collect data and information for this program.

1. Program Monitoring: CRS-Sierra Leone and Floresta-Tanzania utilize a Management Information System (MIS) designed to capture data of VSLA performance indicators. The MIS also tracks specific indicators for each SILC (CRS) and VICOBA (Floresta) group including:

  • Group attendance
  • Average savings per member
  • Average loan size
  • Percentage of members with active loans
  • Portfolio at risk (PAR), a measure of the loans that are past their due dates relative to the total amount of loans given out.
  • Fund utilization, a measure of the use of loanable funds by the group. (A higher loan utilization implies an increase in the profit margin of the group.)

The MIS system is part of ongoing project monitoring and evaluation, although the information gained from the MIS was also essential in answering the research questions for the project. The other research tools and approaches described below were developed specifically to gather data for the research.

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2. Time Series Loan Study: CRS and Floresta conducted a time series study to document whether loan use and amount varies throughout the year. CRS collected information on a monthly basis while Floresta collected information quarterly. The loan form captured information in these categories:

  • Agriculture and forestry
  • Health, microenterprise/business
  • Education
  • Household food (CRS only)
  • Household goods and home improvement
  • Consumption/personal

(For a detailed explanation of loan types, please refer to the Research page).

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3. Focus Group Discussions: CRS and Floresta also conducted focus groups discussions, using semi-structured questionnaires, to gather additional qualitative information from VSLAs and their members. Focus group discussions were  held in six active SILC groups by CRS staff  in the local Mende language. Questions for the focus group included:

  1. What do SILC members spend their loans and savings on?
  2. What is the effect of loans on the lives of the borrowers?
  3. Besides emergencies, what else are social funds used for in SILC groups?
  4. What are the training needs of SILC members?
  5. Are groups willing to use their own funds for group trainings?

Floresta focus group discussions were carried out in 10 active VICOBA groups by Floresta staff. Questions/topics for the focus groups included:

  1. How is a food-secure household defined?
  2. What do VICOBA members spend their loans and savings on?
  3. What is the effect of loans on the food security of the borrowers?
  4. What is the hunger trend for households over the past five years?  Has it increased, decreased or stayed the same?
  5. What times of year do households experience food shortages?

(For more information on the focus group discussions, please refer to the Case Studies page.)

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4. Exchange Visits: As a component of the RAFFS PLP, CRS and Floresta participated in exchange visits to Tanzania , Sierra Leone and India to learn more about different programs implemented by other RAFFS PLP partners. These visits were an opportunity to learn, share experiences, and receive technical training.

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