Promising Practices Inquiry

The Promising Practices Inquiry was developed within CARE’s Strategic Impact Inquiry on women’s empowerment to begin to capture and share lessons to improve impact. It involves internal critical reflection and discussion on women’s empowerment, the interplay between project interventions and the broader environment, a project’s contribution to women’s empowerment and the analysis of stories of change to identify promising practices to support women’s empowerment.

Further, the Promising Practices Inquiry involves a peer review process, where two country offices exchange and critique their Promising Practices to inform global good practices. Across each tool within the inquiry, teams should have:

  • Materials: One page overview of key macro political, social and cultural context underlying the project or initiative in question, a one-page description of the project or initiative, guiding questions.
  • Preparation: Facilitators should be familiar with CARE’s women’s empowerment framework and key project documents. Teams should also work in collaboration with another CARE team to review and support one another’s process. Prior to the workshop, participants should reflect on the project’s work with women and aspects of the project that are promising approaches to support women’s empowerment. Guiding questions may include:
    • What are the most significant changes in women’s lives?
    • What seem to be the main forces shaping these changes?
    • Does the project have impact on these changes and how?
    • What is the change that is happening?
    • What are the factors causing this change?
    • How do you know which part of the changes are shaped by the project?
    • What else might explain the change?
    • What key elements of the project make it successful?
    • What internal factors about CARE itself shape the nature of our impact on women’s empowerment?
  • Participants: Staff and partners drawn from across all positions and levels. The Promising Practices Inquiry Guidelines suggest that staff have a minimum of 1 year experience working with the project, and that the inquiry workshop involve 10-20 members.


Exploring Change in Women’s Lives with Staff

Following introductions and reflection on the inquiry and the women’s empowerment concepts/framework, the facilitator reviews the one-page summary of macro level factors (economic, social and cultural) that underlie the context of the project’s operating environment. In small groups, participants then work together to focus more on women themselves and what is changing for them due to forces that may not be related to CARE. Discussion questions may include:

  • What are the most significant changes shaping women’s lives in the project area?
  • What are the major factors/causes directly leading to these changes?
  • What evidence supports this position? According to whom?

To help organize group discussions, the Promising Practices Inquiry Guidelines provide the following matrix:


Wider (Societal) Change

Important (Underlying) Causes

Dimensions of Women's Empowerment


Major changes in women’s lives – and key forces driving change – are agreed upon based on plenary discussion of group work.

Exploring Project Impact on Women’s Empowerment

Following an introduction and discussion on attribution and its differences with:

  • Changes that result from forces beyond the project,
  • Changes that result from the project, and
  • Changes that are happening but we really don’t know who or what attribute to them.

In small groups, the team then reflects on the major changes identified by the team. Participants then construct a logic map of the various factors involved in producing change. As a reference, groups refer to the women’s empowerment framework and sub-dimensions, and consider how any change in one sub-dimension may affect other sub-dimensions for women’s empowerment.

Analyzing the logic maps, groups also discuss and identify where CARE’s activities have contributed to women’s empowerment.

Some questions to help guide the process may include:

  • What contributions has CARE made, if any, to the empowerment of women and the advancement of gender equity?
  • Programmatic:
    • ‘Agency’ question: In what way(s) does our project enhance women’s individual and collective capacity to think, choose, and act? What evidence is there that CARE’s project supports the expansion of women’s capabilities to identify, pursue, and achieve their basic needs and rights?
    • ‘Structure’ question: What are the structural forces/barriers of change in our context, and how do our programs help change those structures? What evidence is there that our project promotes a more responsive and equitable enabling environment, as embodied in cultural constructs, legal and policy frameworks, economic and market forces, and bureaucratic and organizational forms?
    • ‘Relation’ question: What are the relational forces/barriers to change, and how do our programs help change them? What evidence is there that CARE’s project promotes more interdependent and accountable relationships among women, and between women and the key people and institutions they engage in pursuit of their needs and rights
  • Organizational: Finally, what internal factors about CARE itself – who we are, how we act and think, our funding model, policies and rewards, etc. – are shaping the nature of our impact on women’s empowerment, positively or negatively?

Groups then return to plenary to discuss logic maps, and identify causes of change that are not related to CARE’s efforts. Together the team discusses what constitutes evidence, and in groups participants discuss evidence that would link to CARE’s contribution to women’s empowerment. Within groups, one person should act as ‘helpful skeptics’ to seek, probe and challenge evidence to strengthen analysis.

In plenary, each group then presents evidence, and the team challenges assumptions. Some helpful questions to probe deeper into analysis may be:

  • How do we know women wouldn’t have done better anyway, just because of their own characteristics (resources, education, personalities, etc.)?
  • Are groups absolutely sure that the exact same changes are NOT happening elsewhere, where CARE is NOT working?

The discussion was then document in the following matrix:

Capturing the Practice

Reflecting on the evidence brought forth, the team brainstorms the specific project practices linked to the claims of evidence that CARE’s project contributed to women’s empowerment. Some questions to spark conversation may include:

  • What is the real mix of programmatic practices that the project has used to promote/achieve women’s empowerment?
  • What types and mixes of practices seem most effective?
  • How prevalent are such practices in the project?
  • What is the effect of organizational factors (e.g. culture, structure, staffing mix, resource base, etc) on the degree/nature of impact achieved?
  • What are the organizational practices facilitating positive change?

The facilitator then introduces definitions of a ‘promising practice’ and participants split back into groups to brainstorm output to identify which practices (programmatic as well as organizational) that should be considered promising. A checklist to help groups think about promising practices included:

  • CARE’s own work style, values and gender roles
  • Performance management and/or reward system
  • Nature of project funding
  • Awareness of / accountability for the Programming Principles
  • Awareness of / accountability for the CO Gender/Diversity Policy (if applicable)
  • Identity/positioning of CARE in local civil society
  • Selection and/or nature of partnerships and alliances,
  • Partners and staffing mix
  • Recruitment priorities (e.g. skills or capacities emphasized)
  • Project team profile (e.g. gender, ethnicity, religion, class, etc.)
  • Staff training/capacity-building investments
  • Technical assistance (if applicable)
  • Level at which decisions (about interventions, resource allocations, etc.) are made
  • Collaboration and teamwork (within and beyond the project) on priorities, lessons,
  • challenges & achievements
  • Knowledge management and learning infrastructure
  • Balance of time between implementation and reflective/learning work
  • Ability to innovate, take risks, make mistakes in CARE

In plenary, the team then presents group work, and comes to a consensus on a few top promising practices that they feel critically influence the project’s impact on women’s empowerment. To help narrow ideas, it may helpful to have the group organize their thoughts into what a program must do, should do and could do. to produce the intended change.

Groups should then work to refine the description of these practices to ensure sufficient detail. To guide this process, some helpful guiding questions may be:

  • If you were doing to try to do this again, what would you be sure to do again?
  • What would you do differently?
  • Where did the practice originate? In the community? In the markets? From local feminists or rights activists in the government?
  • Why did the project support/initiate this practice? What community, organizational, or programmatic purpose did it fill?
  • What was it about the local context (economic, political, social, geographic...) that made this practice important, and effective?
  • Where did its impacts travel? Who decided to take the action? Was there a formal analysis? Whose?
  • Who led the action? With whom were they connecting? Which women? Which men? Why?
  • What specific steps did they take? Why did they do it this way?
  • Did the project practice change to support the action after implementation started How did this happen?

To close the workshop, the team discusses an overview of peer review, plan for the documentation of the Practices and a Process Report, and reflect on the process of the workshop. Some questions for the workshop closure may include:

  • Which one aspect of today’s process did you enjoy the most?
  • Which one aspect of today’s process did you enjoy the least?
  • What was the easiest part of today’s process?
  • What was the hardest part of today’s process?
  • What one thing have you learned today about women’s empowerment?
  • From the many topics that surfaced today (e.g. power, empowerment, reflective practice, etc.) which would you most like to learn more about?
  • How did it feel to assess our work in this new way?
  • How will you use the learning from today’s process?
  • Did your discussion of the ‘causes of change’ uncover or affect anything about how you think about change in women’s empowerment (for example: what you tend to see and what you tend to miss, or how you tend to explain and attribute change)?
  • How did your discussion of evidence affect your level of confidence about project impact?
  • Now, in retrospect, how much time would you advise others to prepare for their reflection workshop?

Please provide any additional comments or suggestions that could help us improve the process.

Related Tools

Follow-up: Peer Review Process

To enhance learning across country offices, the peer review helps teams to further review and assess Promising Practices as well as serves as a medium for sharing.

For this, country offices that have undergone the Promising Practices Inquiry determine a peer review team. The team then exchanges promising practices documents with a peer country office team.

As the teams read one another’s documents, they consider a number of guiding questions:

  • Failure to adequately consider the larger context may lead to less than accurate conclusions about the impacts of CARE’s local level work. Have your peers presented a clear understanding of the wider societal changes in women’s lives?
    • Is it clear that changes in women’s lives are occurring?
    • Is it clear which group of women the stated change(s) applies to?
    • Is it clear what external forces are at work driving these changes?
    • Is the logic map of contributing factors clear?
    • Is it clear that you peer’s examined factors in all three dimensions (e.g. agency, relations and structure) in identifying contributing factors?
  • Have your peers presented an understandable, logical and plausible case that CARE has directly contributed to positive change in women’s empowerment?
    • Is it evident how CARE’s work reflects, is shaped by or responds to external forces?
    • Are causal links between what CARE did and the change(s) in women’s lives clearly illustrated? If not, where are the gaps, what else might explain the change?
    • How strong is the evidence presented (if any) that CARE is supporting the expansion of women’s capabilities to identify, pursue, and achieve their basic needs and rights, i.e. that the (i.e. contributing to impact at the Agency level)?
    • How strong is the evidence presented (if any)that CARE is promoting a more responsive and equitable enabling environment, as embodied in cultural constructs, legal and policy frameworks, economic and market forces, and bureaucratic and organizational forms (i.e. contributing to impact at the Structure level)?
    • How strong is the evidence presented (if any) that CARE is promoting more interdependent and accountable relationships between women and the key people and institutions they engage in pursuit of their needs and rights (i.e. contributing to impact at the Relation level)?
    • If the evidence is not convincing, please provide suggestions to strengthen it.
  • How applicable is the Promising Practice to your own project or program?
    • Is the Promising Practice explained well enough for you to understand and work with it yourself? In other words, do you understand all the key elements of the practice that make it successful? If not, please pose specific questions of clarification.
    • What is different about the Promising Practice from your approach? Are these differences related to factors external to CARE or are they due to the nature of your peer’s country office?
    • What modification would you need to make to the Promising Practice to implement it in your own context? If you do not think the practice would work in your own context, please explain why.
  • What are the elements, lessons, critically important steps or insights that are valuable at a global level?
    • In general, what seems innovative or exciting about the Promising Practice from a global perspective?
    • Can you identify any ‘context specific factors’ that may potentially limit the transferability of the Promising Practice to other country offices?

The peer review team then meets to jointly discuss reflections of each question and summarize feedback in a way that is positive and constructive, but also helps others challenge assumptions and scrutinize the evidence. This feedback is then sent back to teams, who may make further revisions on the Promising Practice documents. Documents are then shared widely and the country offices developed action plans to follow up on the perceived gaps or identified leverage points to improve impact.



  • V Vaughn (2007). Promising Practices Inquiry on Women’s Empowerment: A Practical Guide to the Process. CARE USA.
  • CARE (2007). Promising Practices Inquiry on Women’s Empowerment: Resources.