Standard 16: Accountable and timely project close-out.
Close out the project in a way that is responsive and accountable to participants, partners, host or local governments and donors.
Engage with partners, project participants, and other key stakeholders throughout the close-out period, to manage relationships and expectations.
CRS strives to demonstrate our accountability to partners, project participants/beneficiaries, and other key community stakeholders throughout project implementation. As project close-out approaches, and most critically in the final year (for multi-year projects) and final months (for projects of 12 months or less), thoughtful engagement with these stakeholders is essential for a responsible project close-out. Transparent communication and well-planned engagement with key stakeholders throughout the project close-out period:
- Demonstrates CRS’ respect for stakeholders and commitment to agency Partnership Principles.
- Fosters positive stakeholder relationships.
- Creates opportunities for CRS and stakeholders to celebrate project achievements and identify lessons learned to improve future collaborations.
- Facilitates CRS and stakeholder joint identification of ways to sustain and deepen project impact.
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)
- The PM or CoP leads the process of stakeholder engagement throughout close-out.
- Others involved: CRS and partner project team; partnership and capacity strengthening specialists as needed; country program senior management team
- Other members of the CRS project team and (as needed) CRS partnership and capacity strengthening staff support the PM/CoP in engaging partners and other stakeholders (e.g. government stakeholders).
- Partner project staff lead close-out engagement with project participants, other community stakeholders, and others with whom partners have primary responsibility for project interaction.
- Country program senior management support the PM/CoP in engaging strategic partners and other key stakeholders as needed, especially in more complex or sensitive project close-out processes.
- Per the project close-out plan, typically:
- For multi-year projects: Starting at least 12 months before the project end-date
- For projects of 12 months or less: Starting at least 3 months before the project end-date
Note: This key action builds on earlier project team efforts guided by the project’s exit or transition strategy, which is developed as part of project start-up and reviewed and refined throughout implementation.
Follow these steps to ensure effective engagement of partners, project participants, and other key stakeholders throughout close-out, beginning early in the close-out period:
Engaging partners around project close-out
- Prior to the formal start of the detailed close-out planning process, the PM/CoP meets with partner leadership to discuss the close-out process and address any questions or concerns.
- Click here for Tips to keep in mind when discussing the formal close-out process with partners.
- Prepare talking points for these meetings and involve the country representative (CR) and/or head of programming (HoP) in meeting planning and facilitation, as needed.For example, it may be helpful for the CR or HoP to participate in meetings with partners with whom there have been relationship challenges, or with partners where CRS-partner project-based collaboration will end following project close-out.
- Emphasize partners’ critical role in ensuring a responsible, timely, and accountable project close-out.
- When meeting with local partners, be prepared to discuss the CRS-partner relationship after the project ends, and in the context of CRS’ Memorandum of Understanding with the partner, where applicable.
- Communicate clearly and be transparent. For example:
- In cases where CRS is pursuing a possible follow-on project or a cost-extension, discuss the partner’s potential role in those two scenarios and the implications for the close-out process.
- If CRS is exploring the possibility of a follow-on project but is not planning to work with the partner in the new project, communicate the reasons for that decision in a respectful and open way.
- If there is no possibility of follow-on funding, communicate that clearly to partners – especially in the case of local partners whose experience with CRS has included follow-on projects.
- Leave space in the meeting for partners to share their hopes and concerns for the close-out process, seek clarification on the close-out process and expectations, and identify support they may need.
- For local partners, especially those with less diverse funding sources, keep in mind that project close-out can be a very challenging process given the implications for partner staff. Be sensitive to these challenges and offer support as needed and feasible (for guidance, see Standard 17, key action 4).
Communication is critical in close-out: While close-out messages and the CRS staff involved in communicating these messages to partners may be different in different close-out scenarios, a common element in all successful close-out processes is timely and transparent communication.
- The PM/CoP organizes regular meetings with each partner throughout the project close-out period to check-in on progress against the partner's close-out plan.See Standard 16, key action 2 for guidance on working with partners to develop partner project close-out plans.
- Use these meetings to keep the partner updated on overall close-out plan progress and issues, and to ensure a common CRS and partner understanding of expectations for the close-out process.
- Discuss partner close-out activities that are delayed or at risk of falling behind and identify actions to get back on track.
- Confirm that partners are receiving the support they need from CRS to carry out their close-out responsibilities, including those that relate to engaging other stakeholders around close-outClose-out can be an emotional and challenging time for many stakeholders. Remember that partners, especially local partners, are often on the frontlines of close-out communications with communities and other local stakeholders. Be sure they have the support they need to make close-out a smooth process and to celebrate achievements with stakeholders. (see below).
- See the “Partnership” section of Standard 16, key action 3 for additional guidance on close-out check-in meetings with partners.
- As CRS and the partner near the end of the partner sub-agreement period, senior leaders may choose to organize a final partnership reflection.
- For projects implemented in a consortium, use the Consortium Alignment Framework for Excellence (CAFE) guidance (see the CAFE Implementation Guide tools and best practices for learning during “Closure” and “Continuation” as applicable).
- If CRS and a project partner used the Partnership Scorecard as part of partnership management during project implementation, ensure the review of results from any scorecard exercise implemented during or soon after the close-out period includes a discussion of close-out related partnership successes and challenges.
Capacity strengthening and project close-out: Whether at the level of CRS, partners, individual project participants, community groups, local government, or other stakeholders, close-out is the time to consolidate capacities. If capacity strengthening has been well-planned and managed from the beginning of the project, the close-out period presents an opportunity to reinforce systems and support stakeholder application of the knowledge and skills developed through the project. Keep in mind, however, that “high-dosage” capacity strengthening during close-out can’t compensate for insufficient capacity strengthening earlier in the project.
Engaging project participants and communities around close-out
- As part of final project detailed implementation planning and close-out plan development, the CRS and partner project teams identify roles and responsibilities for engaging project participants and wider project communities around project close-out.
- Click here for Guidance for situations where no follow-on project is anticipated (project exit).
- Review the status of the project exit strategy, including phase outPhase out means discontinuing support or involvement in a project activity. There is no attempt to find a new sponsor to continue the activity. (Hello I Must be Going, Levinger and McLeod, 2002) is well as efforts to phase overPhase over describes the process of substantially reducing support for a project activity or service but also identifying a successor institution that will continue providing the service. Sponsor assists the new institution in developing needed capacities and resources. (Hello I Must be Going, Levinger and McLeod, 2002) responsibilities for key project activities and services to others, and update plans accordingly.
- Reflect on any ways CRS and/or the partner might maintain a relationship with project participants and communities after the project closes (e.g. through ongoing though unrelated partner activities in the community, etc.).
- Develop clear talking points/key messages for close-out discussions with project participants and communities (see step 5). This is particularly important if there may be an extension period that prolongs close-out, as extensions can raise expectations about project continuation (see the example Close-out Talking Points/FAQs under “Other Resources”).
- Use the ideas from The Good Enough Guide tool on “How to say goodbye” (Tool 14).
- Click here for Guidance for situations where CRS and/or the partner will continue supporting similar activities in the target communities (project transition).
- Review plans for the proposed new/follow-on project and clarify which project participants are likely to be involved in the new project, and how.
- Develop clear talking points/key messages for transition discussions with project participants and communities (see step 6, and the Example Close-Out Talking Points/FAQs under “Other Resources”).
- If CRS or the partner is awaiting confirmation of funding for a follow-on or related new project, ensure the talking points clearly indicate what the project team should communicate about the potential new project, and when. Balance transparency with appropriate management of expectations and confirm team members understand what to say and when.
- The identified partner and/or CRS project team members hold formal meetings with project participants and community groups early in the close-out process, consistent with good practice 6.b from CRS' MEAL policies and procedures. During these meetings, they review the plans for final project activities as the project nears its conclusion, and solicit input from stakeholders to inform final close-out steps (see MEAL good practice 6.B).MEAL good practice 6.B: Communicate key project information to community members during project start up and close out.
- Click here for Suggested discussion points for initial exit or transition planning meetings with project participants and communities.
- Reference previous discussions with project participants and communities about the support the project was intended to provide and the duration of that support.
- Remind participants of the capacities they have enhanced and developed through their engagement with the project to date.
- Review the status of any efforts to phase over responsibility for continuing project activities and services.
- Invite community members to share ideas about other potential sources of community or external support to sustain and build upon project successes.
- (As applicable) Review plans for the project final evaluation and project participants’ role in that process.
If the project exit strategy is to phase over responsibilities for activities or services provided by the project to another organization, be sure to include the organization in these meetings.
- For projects that are closing with no follow-on, the PM/CoP leads the CRS and partner team in discussing additional communications options to ensure all participants have the information they need about project close-out. This may include developing short communications pieces to highlight important information (e.g. when various project services and activities will end).
- Plan with project participants’ literacy levels and communication preferences at top of mind. Pay special attention to how the most vulnerable community members and project participants access information.
- Ensure participants are aware of whom to contact for additional information or to share concerns. See the example Close-out Fliers for Project Participants in the “Other Resources” section.
- See the “How to say goodbye” tool (Tool 14) from The Good Enough Guide for additional ideas.
- The CRS project team supports partner staff to organize formal project transition and close-out events with project participants, other key project community stakeholders, and other local stakeholders.
- Click here for Tips for project transition and close-out events.
- Celebrate project achievements and the key roles project participants and other stakeholders played in those achievements.
- Prepare and share data on project achievements and emphasize the assets (physical, social, human) that will remain in the community and that the community itself helped to create and will now work to maintain.
- Consider presenting certificates or other tokens of formal recognition.
- Following the final evaluation (see Standard 18) and related reflection event, consider organizing a meeting or set of meetings with project participants or community representatives to share final project results and learning (see Standard 18, key action 3 for detailed guidance). In some projects, these may be separate events than the transition/close-out events highlighted in step 7.
Other stakeholders (e.g. local, regional, national government stakeholders)
- As with project participants and community stakeholders, as part of close-out planning, the CRS and partner project teams identify strategies and key activities and corresponding roles and responsibilities for engaging key stakeholders, especially government, around project close-out.
- Adjust strategies depending on the likely post-project scenario (e.g. exit; transition to a follow-on project; a new, unrelated project) and considerations related to ongoing CRS and/or partner coordination and collaboration with the stakeholder.
- Develop talking points and key messages for close-out meetings with these stakeholders. In cases where there has been turnover at stakeholder level, keep in mind current office-holders’ and other stakeholders’ familiarity with the project’s origins and exit/transition activities to date.
- Per the responsibilities assigned in the project close-out plan, the PM/CoP and/or partner staff/leadership schedules meetings with identified stakeholders early in the close-out process to update them on close-out planning and timelines and invite their inputs particularly regarding project transitions, phase over approaches (as applicable), and final community-level activities.
- As applicable, clarify government stakeholder expectations regarding project handover/phase-over activities and final project reporting to their offices.
- Discuss plans for final project events (e.g. community close-out events, a project final evaluation and related learning and sharing activities) and stakeholder participation in the same.
- Engage CRS senior management and technical experts as needed in meetings with particularly strategic and/or specialized stakeholders.For example, a key regional or national-level government stakeholder, a research or technical services institute, etc.
- The CRS and partner project team engages the key stakeholders throughout the close-out process, as agreed during the stakeholder meetings in step 10.
- Ensure the CRS and/or partner project team follows up on any requested or required reporting to key stakeholders on final project status.
- See also Standard 18, key action 3 on stakeholder engagement in activities to disseminate end-of-project learning.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- See the steps under “Engaging partners around close-out” in the "How" section, above.
- Follow the steps above to develop plans for engaging project participants, communities, and other stakeholders with whom CRS and any sub-recipients or sub-contractors have worked directly under the project. Keep in mind that the prime typically leads close-out engagement with central-level government stakeholders.
- Share CRS’ close-out stakeholder engagement plans for the prime’s information and inputs as appropriate.
- In the case of potential extensions or follow-on projects which may affect close-out timing and messaging, work with the prime to ensure that CRS is updated on the status of such requests and can update partners and participating communities as applicable.
- Telescope the guidance above as needed, given the typically shorter timeframe for emergency project close-out and what is often permanent coordination and communication with project stakeholders.
- If an emergency project will be followed by a recovery project that will focus on a subset of communities where CRS and partners supported emergency response activities, be sure to communicate clearly and explain targeting decisions to communities who will not be part of the recovery project.
- The “How to say goodbye” tool (Tool 14) from The Good Enough Guide was developed for emergency projects, and is a particularly useful tool when planning close-out in communities where CRS and partners will exit after the initial emergency response.
- If the project is part of an emergency response for which the Caritas Internationalis Protocol for CI Coordination in Emergency Response was activated, follow Protocol guidance regarding updating the national Caritas about closure status - see the "Closure" section of the Protocol. This document is available on the CI Baobab site. If you are not registered on the CI Baobab site, please register here.When registering for the CI Baobab site, CRS staff should select "Caritas United States - CRS" as their organization and list the Humanitarian Response Department and email@example.com as the reference contact. If you have any questions, please contact CRS’ Humanitarian Response Department (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Tools and templates
Partnership Scorecard and tutorial video guidance
The Good Enough Guide to Impact Measurement and Accountability in Emergencies: Tool 14: How to say goodbye
Policies and procedures
POL-OOD-PRG-008: MEAL Policies and Procedures, specifically procedure 7.2 and good practice 6.B Procedure 7.2: Communicate progress and evaluation findings to key stakeholders according to their information needs.
Good Practice 6.B: Communicate key project information to community members during project start-up and close-out.
Communication basics: An introduction to effective communication in partnership and capacity strengthening (Institute for Capacity Strengthening course)
Hello, I must be going: Ensuring quality services and sustainable benefits through well-designed exit strategies (Levinger, B. and J. McLeod. 2002; Education Development Center, Inc.)
Relationship basics: How CRS staff relate to partners and approach capacity strengthening (Institute for Capacity Strengthening course)
- Per the project close-out plan, typically:
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)