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Taking the first steps towards a participatory monitoring and evaluation system

September 13, 2011

The following is a piece I was asked to write for the website and newsletter of the Mali Health Organizing Project (MHOP), my former employer. For more information on MHOP, also see ‘A snapshot of Sikoroni-Rights, development and NGO intervention‘. For some earlier thoughts on monitoring and evaluation, have a look at ‘What is monitoring and evaluation?’

Measuring the results and impact of its programmes has always been an important part of MHOP’s work; to provide staff with the information they need to improve and build upon existing work; provide information to its donors; and perhaps most importantly, ensure that it is held accountable to the people it serves within the community.

Earlier this year however MHOP began to draw together the different ways it measures impact, into more concrete monitoring and evaluation systems for its programmes.

Monitoring and Evaluation involves both routinely asking the small questions; ‘How many Radio shows did we produce this month?’, to ensure that programmes are on track, and then regularly stopping to plan how to use this information, and gather more, to answer the larger questions; ‘What has been the impact of Radio shows on relations between government officials and residents in Sikoro?’.

A participative approach

Critics of traditional monitoring and evaluation methods however see it as very ‘extractive’; surveyors coming into a community, asking questions, quantifying responses, and then this information disappearing into a report for a donor somewhere.  The approach of participative monitoring and evaluation however tries to take a more respectful approach, in which the actors the organisation engages with, staff at different levels, and participants, are involved in monitoring and evaluation efforts themselves.

Fundamentally, this approach is more respectful – it appreciates the knowledge and lived experiences of those who may be ‘surveyed’, and others involved in the daily running of programmes, and not just of a Monitoring and Evaluation specialist employed by an organisation.

Looking at the nature of MHOP’s work in Sikoro, in which MHOP attempts at all times to respect and involve Sikoro residents in programme design and implementation, this approach towards monitoring and evaluation is particularly important.

Since March therefore MHOP has begun to design and put in place systems, training sessions and tools that will permit representatives from Sikoro and all MHOP staff to engage with the different steps involved in monitoring and evaluation.

What has participative monitoring and evaluation meant in practice?

In practice this has meant first ‘demystifying’ monitoring and evaluation; processes which are often seen as something far removed and technical, but which in essence are about observation and reflection. Observation of the components involved in the implementation of a project, and reflection upon a project’s progress and results.

For MHOP, after first examining key ideas behind monitoring and evaluation, a participative approach to monitoring and evaluation then involved sitting down with the team responsible for Radio Sigida Joli, for example, and mapping out clearly the objectives of the Radio programme, in order to identify what it is that need to be monitored and evaluated. From this basis together a framework was established, and indicators created so that the team had the tools in which they could monitor and measure what ‘success’ looked like themselves. It has since involved training leaders of the listener groups to collect qualitative data on the impact of the programme amongst residents, and on how to evaluate the group Radio discussion sessions they hold with other listener group members.

As part of the Action for Health programme, participatory monitoring and evaluation has involved not just the annual health survey that measures changes in disease incidence and uptake of health care services, but training the Community Health Workers to collect Most Significant Change stories from participants in the programme.

As a way of asking participants to describe in their own words what has been the most significant change in their lives as a result of the programme, the technique aims to capture the changes that have occurred in participants lives that may not be able to be defined by indicators or measured by surveys. Most importantly it gives participants the chance to speak freely, and air their views.

Finally, as part of the new Action Training programme, participative monitoring and evaluation has to some extent involved letting go of control. Through a series of training sessions, community associations such as Sante Mali and other representative groups in Sikoro were provided with the tools and foundations they needed to lead the monitoring and evaluation efforts for their projects themselves.

Working with Sante Mali for example, association representatives were shown how to develop a monitoring and evaluation plan; defining clear objectives, developing indicators, deciding upon different tools to be used, and when data collection will take place. With guidance, the representatives were then asked to develop a plan themselves for an example project, and have since lead their process with other members of their association.

 Challenges and moving forward

 Participatory monitoring and evaluation is not without its challenges; no data collection tool is inherently ‘participative’, and relies upon the attitude and skills of its facilitator to encourage genuine participation from all group members. Providing feedback to residents, many of whom may have low levels of literacy, will remain a long term challenge. Carry out data collection in a way that provides MHOP with the information it needs, whilst not being a burden or an imposition on participants lives, can be a tricky balance.

In the past few months however MHOP has taken the first few steps towards a monitoring and evaluation system which not only provides MHOP with valuable information, but which provides the many different actors MHOP engages with the opportunity to become involved in this process, promoting two way learning rather than simple data extraction.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2011 5:19 pm

    Thanks for this post. I’m not in the aid or development field, but I profiled MHOP for a project I run to raise the profile of organizations that are flying under the radar and doing effective work. After spending time with MHOP in Sikoro, I really came to appreciate their model and I’m glad to see they are making efforts to build on it by implementing a system like this.

    • September 13, 2011 5:31 pm

      Phil, thanks for your comment, and for profiling MHOP! Although I’m probably slightly biased I do think they take a genuinely respectful approach, and are addressing clear gaps (and building upon strengths) in Sikoro. Small organisations often don’t have the capacity to carry out effective monitoring and evaluation work, and so I hope this is a good foundation for them.

      On a Bamako note, also have a look at Steve, who runs the blog, is still based there

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