Traditional monitoring and its limitations

Traditional monitoring activities chart a project’s adherence to a pre-determined workplan. Success is considered completing all planned activities and deliverables. If we’re doing the work as planned, we are on the way to achieving our development objectives!

However, this assumption—that adherence to the workplan equates to progress toward the objective—hinges on a critical factor: that the workplan and the objective are appropriately aligned.

For some projects, this is a safe assumption to make. Previous programming in the region and deep contextual knowledge contribute to our confidence that planned activities will indeed contribute positively to our development goals. However, in new program areas or in transitioning environments, for example, we may not have access to this depth of contextual understanding prior to an intervention. And even in areas where we enjoy prior knowledge and rich networks, unforeseen changes on the ground can alter the needs of program beneficiaries in a way that challenges the program’s underlying logic, or theory of change. While the risk of assuming the workplan and the development objective are aligned is more apparent in certain programming contexts, that risk is present in every development project we undertake.

Minimizing Risk

Adaptive management is an approach, quickly gaining traction, that can mitigate the risk that activities and development objectives are unaligned. Adaptive management is a multi-faceted approach, but one principle tenant is to use MEL activities to enable strategic adaptation during implementation(1). During the design stage, teams identify weak points in the theory of change, determine what data is needed to verify those points, and locate appropriate data sources. Project staff should actively seek feedback from critical stakeholders and apply that feedback during the project re-design process. By strategically collecting focused information, triangulating findings against other data sources, and applying those learnings, we can see in real time whether a project is likely to produce the anticipated results or whether adjustments are needed.

Building Capacity for MEL

The adaptive management approach requires expert technical skills in monitoring and evaluation, data collection, data quality, and analysis. Adaptive management must be predicated by dedicated and focused training to enable project staff to develop the specific MEL skills required to successfully implement the adaptive management approach. DevTech Systems, Inc. is pleased to contribute to these efforts by building the MEL capacity of staff at USAID and its implementing partners through S4SIPMS and the Nigeria MEL Platform, among many others.

Source: (1) Read more about how MEL informs adaptive management in ODI’s briefing paper “Making adaptive rigor work: principles and practices for strengthening monitoring, evaluation and learning for adaptive management”.

ODI Briefing Paper Making adaptive rigour work: Principles and practices for strengthening monitoring, evaluation and learning for adaptive management Ben Ramalingam, Leni Wild, Anne L. Buffardi April 2019 https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/12653.pdf