Developing Monitoring & Evaluation processes that foster Learning

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is an instrument that predominates in the development sector to ensure substantive planning, accountability of investments, and as a basis for learning. It provides a baseline to benchmark future actions/interventions and improves their relevance and quality.

In the context of OSIWA, M&E has been a means to ensure partners’ accountability while trying to get a sense of the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability of the Foundation’s programs and interventions across the sub region. With this approach to M&E, project compliance to the plan initially drafted was a key focus.

OSIWA’s approach to M&E was somewhat rigid in nature due to an emphasis on compliance which has sometimes been a source of tension between staff and implementing partners. Change is a constant in any situation and partners on the ground often count on the Foundation for some level of flexibility when it comes to project implementation with the recognition that new developments may occur that can impact the outcome and potential success of the project. Focusing on the initial plan, in spite of new developments, makes the work on the ground more challenging for implementing partners. OSIWA has since reviewed its approach to M&E and since 2016 decided to incorporate ‘learning’ into the approach. Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation (LM&E) came about from the recognition that the Foundation cannot solely rely on monitoring and evaluation to learn from its failures and successes and improve the quality of the work and its impact.

Adopting a more deliberate learning approach to OSIWA’s M&E offers more flexibility to explore different ways through which projects could meet their objectives. Now, instead of just asking partners to explain why an activity or a set of activities were not implemented as initially planned and what they intended to do to get back on track; we ask if and why the initial plan was or was not the best way forward. We also ask the partners how they would do things differently and where/how OSIWA can help. What we have  seen with  this approach is that it encourages partners to fully engage with us at the early stages of project implementation. Learning from the work with partners requires us to be flexible to change, being honest when things do not go as planned and being open to questioning the own initial strategy. To do so, we have revisited the Outcome Mapping concept that we adapted to the specificities of the work we do and combined it with other methods to ensure it is people and learning –centered.

Four key principles guided the shift to incorporate learning in our M&E process. First, the recognition of “Learning” as an integral part of any M&E approach. The learning is centered on what did and did not work, so as to establish benchmarks and identify best practices throughout the different interventions in the sub-region. This helps us make necessary adjustments, be it in the way projects are implemented or in the strategy.

Secondly, collaboration and partnership at all levels with the different teams across programs, countries and sister foundations is an important way to draw attention to issues and best practices, and seek support, input & feedback on activities, outputs and initiatives.

The third principle is pro-activeness and responsiveness. Effective learning typically starts at the early stages of project design through to implementation, where we can anticipate areas of learning and ensure they are well documented. Learning is not limited to OSIWA staff, we also share the findings with partners and sister foundations.

This leads us to the last principle which is sharing the right information in the appropriate format. Given the potential for controversy around some of the themes OSIWA works on, communicating what the Foundation is learning from its work in a digestible and direct manner has proven crucial. As well as providing the target audience with the relevant information and supporting tools to help shape their work and maintaining consistent communication with partners.

As OSIWA develops a set of comprehensive tools to effectively learn from its work, there is room for adjustments to keep finding the right balance/formula for the Foundation and our partners. In the long term, we expect to see more and more CSOs reflecting on impact and questioning and challenging some of the initial assumptions underpinning some of our interventions in the sub region, which helps us to develop and improve our strategies for intervention. Learning has enabled us to understand the factors that bring about change in any given situation, the reasoning behind it and its impact on a project. This paves the way to improve the outcomes and ensure better replication moving forward.

By Ndidi Daniela Nwaobasi, OSIWA’s Learning, Monitoring & Evaluation Associate

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