A new approach to learning, monitoring and evaluation

03 June 2011

By Carrie Baptist
SPARC India

SDI embarked on a Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation (LM&E) process more than a year ago, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation. A workshop in Mumbai, India, held on 27-29 April was a key milestone in consolidating lessons learned thus far, and to refine and expand LM&E practices for many more SDI affiliates, and the network as a whole.

***What follows is a summary of the four-day workshop. A full report with key quotes and insights from individual participants can be downloaded here.***

At a meeting in Nairobi last year, LM&E was first discussed and 5 countries chose to begin an intensive LM&E process with the support of two organizations commissioned to assist in designing the LME process and facilitating it in these 5 national affiliates. In Asia, Sri Lanka and Nepal began the LM&E process with the support of PRIA, an Indian N.G.O. In Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana were supported in their processes by IPA, a Ghanaian N.G.O.

The purpose of this workshop was to share the process that these 5 countries undertook for LM&E and to envision ways in which these processes can be expanded throughout SDI. This workshop was also intended to continue the processes of clarifying and defining what Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation means for SDI. Principles and purposes of LM&E were articulated for SDI as a whole, as well as specific ways in which LM&E might begin and be incorporated into ongoing learning processes.

The workshop was spread over 4 days. The first day included presentations by the 5 countries which have been doing an in-depth LM&E process this past year. The second day we went over the Mind Map of SDI’s activities in 2011, our projects and relationships, making sure everyone was up to date on the full picture and to fill in any gaps. We then broke up into group discussions about the purposes and principles of LM&E for SDI, and then methods and strategies for implementing LM&E. On the third day, we again split up into small groups, by regional hub, and outlined the specific activities each country would be undertaking in the upcoming year for LM&E. On the afternoon of the third day there was a field visit to Dharavi. On the fourth day, there was a field visit to the federations in Pune, where there is currently an in-situ upgrading project underway.

A lot of important issues were brought up during the workshop, but a few central themes emerged:

  1. The importance of being able to define for ourselves what M&E is and what it means to us, so that the federations and SDI really own the processes and have a strong internal rationale for it.
  2. Thoughts on the relationship between working in rural and urban spaces, and possible lessons which can translate between each setting; the importance of M&E relating and reflecting the local needs of the federations and affiliate.
  3. The foundational importance of the core SDI rituals, savings, enumeration, exchanges, and the ways in which M&E might help strengthen and support these ongoing processes.
  4. The importance of incorporating M&E into core federation processes, differentiating between M&E for processes and for projects, and actively engaging with it, so that this is something that we do consciously and with commitment.
  5. The importance of exchanges and the role of regional hubs in supporting M&E.
  6. That M&E is as much an attitude of critical engagement and reflection as it is a concrete process and that it should strongly reflect SDI’s theory of change.
  7. The importance of viewing M&E broadly, so that we reflect not just on the number of people saving or the amount of savings, but on women’s empowerment, community organization and strength, advocacy on government policy etc. How we measure these things is also important, as they can be difficult to quantify, ex: how do you measure the empowerment of a community?

What are our principles and purposes of M&E?

The most often mentioned purposes were:

  • Review and measure our progress based on the plans we make – track whether we are on the right path.
  • Set benchmarks and see whether we achieve them or not.
  • Serve as a guiding tool for helping to develop systems within ourselves –self regulation.
  • Learn from our mistakes after the review and make changes; identify problems and enable us to develop solutions.
  • Strengthen the relationship between local and regional networks; clarification of roles and responsibilities.
  • Create documentation which empowers federations/participators – information is power, and also helps to asses/review the federations– build their capacity.
  • Facilitate learning between affiliates; increase participation in the process by sharing new ideas and new experiences.
  • Strengthen the credibility and integrity of the federations in SDI; protection and management of the reputation of the federations and SDI; manage reputational risk.
  • Increase the self-reliance of the federations and SDI.
  • To remind the federations of their identity.
  • Increase the visibility of SDI and expose more information about the federations.
  • Help with being accountable to outside groups and to ourselves.
  • Create chances for mobilizing resources through monitoring progress; help effectiveness in reaching objectives and translating that into ability to manage our resources well.
  • To create unity in the federations; partnership and collaboration between the federations and government.
  • Strengthen downward accountability to our constituencies.
  • For SDI at a corporate level to increase standardization and our ability to aggregate and maintain coherence of SDI’s work, shared vision.

The most often mentioned principles were:

  • Ownership of the process by federations
  • Transparency and accountability to the federations, Secretariat, SDI as a whole.
  • Honesty in learning from mistakes and growth
  • Making sure that it is suitable to the federation
  • The issue of gender has to be reflected.
  • Basic standardization of how to capture and aggregate data
  • Complimentary role of LME, so it is not something separate, rather it is integrated into things we already do.
  • To create a broader process of advocacy.
  • Participatory at all levels, not just the federations but also the N.G.O; increase participation through more communication and knowledge sharing.
  • Commitment to the process; being consistent and following up on commitments
  • Using practical indicators, so that is is understandable to everyone.
  • Use data as an opportunity for dialogue and discussion; more information dissemination.
  • To reflect the participation of the community in all levels – local, national and international.

How does this compare with mainstream M&E and how is it different?

  • Mainstream M&E’s primary purpose is accountability for use of funds and it is linked to the project log frame.  It is done in a manner that is ‘objective’ in the sense that it is undertaken by outside parties uninvolved with the work being evaluated.  It assesses time and cost efficiency. It is the exercise of external judgment.
  • Our process includes a focus on learning and participation. It is interested in qualitative as well as quantitative indicators, which are defined and owned by the federations, not be an outside group. We are interested in efficiency and quality, but also in the quality of our core processes, not just our projects. Our process is about self-reflection and is internally accountable, reflecting on our commitments to ourselves as well as our outside partners.

***A full report with key quotes and insights from individual participants is here.***