Program Implementation – The Alphabet Soup of M&E: PDIA, HICD, MM, SCBM, etc.

A friend of mine recently commented on Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) processes, which made me ponder as to why they are found baffling by the average person, no matter how many years of experience and education that person may have.

I discovered that many proposal evaluators get confused when reading the proposed M&E section and will acknowledge without compunction that they just could not quite follow what the organization writing the M&E plan was actually proposing.   I have also witnessed intelligent individuals turn glassy eyed at hearing about the M&E work plan’s development, that includes outputs vs. outcomes, inputs vs. indicators, activities vs. results, and the concept of an “iterative adaptation”.

Below I share some of the M&E resources that I found helpful in trying to understand what different donors had in mind when referring to the elusive “monitoring for results” in capacity building projects.  However, I have yet to find answers to my concerns about conflicts of interest and other problems in M&E and program implementation:

  • Who are the evaluators?
    • Evaluating the competition:  There is an inherent conflict of interest when the evaluators are hired to do M&E work on an implementing entity and they themselves are competitors in the contracting/grant implementation world.  This situation places the implementer in a very vulnerable position, as the competitor/evaluator is in the enviable position of learning proprietary information.
    • Evaluating a former employer:
      • When a disgruntled or aggrieved former employee is hired to evaluate the former employer’s work by the donor, who is aware of the complaints and grievances of this former employee, the integrity and the objectivity of the evaluation are in peril.
      • When a former employee is knowingly hired by the donor to evaluate that former employee’s own work, there is an inherent conflict of interest that taints the evaluation from its very beginning.  How unbiased can that former employee be?
  • How does one ensure true transparency in the M&E process?
    • Learning from failure:
      • Will the program implementer that the M&E shows is failing in certain aspects of the project not worry about the potential risk of losing the project to a competitor?
      • Donors face budgetary pressures to work on successful programs.  But M&E points out to what does not work, what needs improvement.  If the M&E plan is done internally, by the implementer itself, there are conflicts between those program experts who want to apply the learned lessons of the M&E -even if it means revising the program, readjusting it, or removing parts of the program that don’t work, and those administrators who mostly pay attention to the bottom line and do not want to see the program shrink at all.  One could argue the same conflicts exist between donor and contractor.  See the tension?
  •  How can you guarantee complete accuracy of the data being entered into a database?

    • Self-assessment via an implementer’s internal M&E process relies on the honesty, good faith, and accuracy of the employees providing the data and those entering the data.  However, when the donor is under immense pressure to produce results, the temptation to churn information that may not be verifiable is real.
    • The same issues above apply to third parties hired by the donor to gather the implementers’ data and produce charts and graphs that make beautiful infographics for future publications.  However, who monitors these third parties, who may be using flawed algorithms or erroneous excel sheet mathematical equations?

So, is M&E really that difficult to understand?  I have my own theory on why Rule of Law/Justice Sector projects are so hard to assess, but this is for another day.  Here is a list of methodologies and other resources for you to decide:

 

Eliminating Violence Against Women

Below is an illustration from a booklet published by IDLO a few years ago that was used by the Afghan Attorney General’s office to explain the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  It provides a glimpse of what was then the educational campaign needed to reach the many rural and remote provinces, communities and government officials who did not know about the laws affecting the rights of women.
The OECD has interesting statistics that show countries’ ranks in the world of violence against women (VAW).  In 2014 Jamaica appears as the least violent country, while Guinea appears to have been last.  The World Health Organization (WHO) produced an Ethical and and safety recommendations for intervention research on domestic violence against women, which focuses on “health-based interventions to address VAW…”.  The WHO Infographics shows why VAW has health-based repercussions.

Keeping things in perspective, from an international development lens, it was not until 1994 that the U.S. Government enacted the Violence Against Women’s Act, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) did not open until a year later.

Of note:  Even though the U.S. Government has not ratified the UN’s 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), many U.S. Government funded Rule of Law programs incorporate CEDAW in their gender-based and VAW projects.  By the way, Afghanistan ratified CEDAW on March 5th, 2003.

 

Thoughts on the Evolution of a Rule of Law Justice Sector Program

Ideally, the genesis of an international Rule of Law “development” project should entail the meetings of the minds between the donor and the beneficiary.  Some of us like to say that there has to be “buy-in” from the host government as well as the individual host organizations that might be involved in the project.  This would show the cooperative efforts of all concerned towards what could be the key goals of the mission:  strengthening of the rule of law and the fostering of  accountability and transparency.  For example, a specific justice sector program’s mission might be to build the capacity of the host country’s criminal justice sector institutions through improving the ability of their professional staff to deliver fair and effective justice services to citizens.  Sometimes, the initial focus is to help a country build its police and prosecutorial capacity through formal training programs of academic instruction.

What I have discovered is that what the donor organization (which may include the program implementer as well) wants to see happen may not necessarily be best suited to the way the project should be carried out.  One does not become an international development practitioner overnight.  While an expatriate technical advisor may have stellar credentials from his or her prosecutorial days in their particular state or country, they may have never lived in a different environment other than their own.  This can lead to disastrous results because there is a lack of understanding of, and maybe a lack of empathy for, the recipient of the technical advice.

A long time ago, I witnessed a foreign “expert” deliver a lecture on American jurisprudence and individual rights to an academic group in a socialist country.  The audience was barely curious and did not seem to engage.  What the “expert” did not realize was the group’s lack of understanding of what he believed were common concepts, until someone asked “what is the right to privacy?”  Once it became obvious that there had been such a gulf between the lecturer and the trainees, the “expert” was able to correct the situation and begin to provide examples that the local nationals could finally relate to!

I was at the very beginning of my professional “Rule of Law” work, and it was a fine lesson for me too:  borrowing from the Spaniards, there are many “Ruperto el Experto” types, but few that meet the “experto crede Ruperto”  standard.