Background: Sustainability is the holy grail of many development projects, yet there is limited evidence about strategies that effectively support transition of programs from donor funding to national governments. The first phase of Avahan, the India AIDS Initiative supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2003-2009), aimed to demonstrate an HIV/AIDS prevention program at scale, primarily targeted at high-risk groups. During the second phase (2009-2013), this large-scale program will be transitioned to its natural owners: the Government of India and local communities. This paper describes the evaluation design for the Avahan transition strategy.
Methods/design: A detailed logic model for the transition was developed. The Avahan transition strategy focuses on three activities: (1) enhancing capacities among communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government entities, in line with India's national AIDS control strategy; (2) aligning technical and managerial aspects of Avahan programs with government norms and standards; and (3) promoting and sustaining commitment to services for most-at-risk populations. It is anticipated that programs will then transfer smoothly to government and community ownership, become institutionalized within the government system, and support a sustained HIV/AIDS response.The research design evaluates the implementation and effectiveness of (1) activities undertaken by the program; (2) intermediate effects including the process of institutionalization and the extent to which key Avahan organizational procedures and behaviors are integrated into government systems; and (3) overarching effects namely the impact of the transition process on the sustained delivery of HIV/AIDS prevention services to high-risk groups. Both qualitative and quantitative research approaches are employed so that the evaluation will both assess outcomes and explain why they have occurred.
Conclusions: It is unusual for donor-supported projects in low- and middle-income countries to carefully plan transition processes, and prospectively evaluate these. This evaluation is designed so as to both inform decision making throughout the transition process and answer larger questions about the transition and sustainability of donor programs.
Keywords: HIV/AIDS; evaluation; sustainability.