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Historical context of Monitoring and Evaluation

[By Vincent Kanyamuna]

AS benefits for governments and other institutions are increasingly being attributed to the notions and practice of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) globally, some crucial questions that arise include: When in human history did M&E become appreciated as an instrument of good governance and performance enhancer? Where is M&E situated in contemporary social improvement efforts? Can M&E be located as being useful and relied upon by past societies developmentally? Importantly, if today’s development actors and practitioners are to fully embrace M&E in their work, evidence from the past would be beneficial. Today, governments, non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, donor agencies and the private sector have put M&E at the centre of their service delivery strategies (although the extent of quality M&E practice remains questionable). Thus, an analytically deeper look into the past practices of M&E would bring forth some insights on how we need to see M&E function as being instrumental in our attempts to become socio-economically transformed societies.

Historically, M&E can be traced to various points in the past. However, one still has to distinguish between modern-day M&E and traditional M&E, which are practised by different generations and societies as the world continues to evolve. Every society in the past seems to have implemented some form of performance-tracking system. In other words, M&E has always been on the development reform agenda of many governments and institutions. In giving a more distant historical perspective of the importance and usefulness of M&E practice, Kusek and Rist (2004) recounted: “there is tremendous power in measuring performance. The ancient Egyptians regularly monitored their country’s outputs in grain and livestock production more than 5,000 years ago. In this sense, M&E is certainly not a new phenomenon. Modern governments, too, have engaged in some form of traditional M&E over the past decades. They have sought to track over time their expenditures, revenues, staffing levels, resources, programmes and project activities, goods and services produced, and so forth”.

From the days of the Ancient Egyptians, there has been a great deal of evolution in the philosophical orientation and conceptualisation of M&E. For example, in the 1960s, M&E practice underwent a substantial paradigm shift, which was predominantly quantitative in focus, reflecting the social scientific trend of the era. This domination continued in the social sciences in the 1970s, putting more emphasis on empowerment evaluation. The emphasis on empowerment approaches was based on lived experiences to represent and provide a voice to as many stakeholders as possible. However, in the decades that followed, M&E methodologies shifted from an emphasis on quantitative to more qualitative, participatory approaches and empowerment techniques.

The increasing demand for M&E, even in contemporary governance systems, has resulted because of the critical benefits associated with the two notions. For example, benefits such as the provision of relevant information embedded in good feedback-loop systems are what results-based M&E offer decision makers and other stakeholders. Many governments and organisations have tracking (M&E) systems that form part of their management toolkits: financial systems, accountability systems, and good human resource systems. Earlier development management efforts lacked the feedback component, which enables the tracking of implementation consequences. In that regard, building M&E systems has leveraged decision makers in the provision of much-valued feedback on policy, programme and project performance as a basis for future improvement.

In addition, contemporary M&E practices have their roots in the Results Based Management (RBM) approach, which is a management strategy centred on performance and achievement of outputs, outcomes and impacts for a policy, programme or project. M&E systems are also viewed as toolkits of management meant to help institutions of development to realise intervention effectiveness through the delivery of results. Typically, RBM, employs traditional tools such as strategic planning, results frameworks, monitoring and programme evaluation to improve organisational performance. In some kind of a chicken-egg dilemma relationship, M&E can be said to have similarly enhanced the understanding and practice of RBM over the years now. The RBM approach was popularised first among private sector organisations, development agencies and multilateral organisations, and later moved on to the public sector as part of reform efforts in the 1980s and 1990s. Today in the new millennium, most development interventions have adopted the RBM approach to inform processes such as planning, budgeting, strategic prioritisation, policy and decision making.

Given the long history of M&E being emblazoned in the very existence and practices of humankind, governments and other development agencies can work towards building and sustaining M&E practices and systems. Equally, citizens and advocates of development and social justice can be sure that M&E can help in bringing about transparency, accountability and good governance tenets in any society. But as a carrier and messenger of both good news and undesirable news, M&E can face challenges of not being promoted in organisations – obviously for fear that wrongs may be laid bare in black and white and punitive as well as correctional measures will be sought. This would be the major politically motivated hindrance to M&E growth and support. However, societies that have thrived over such short-term selfish perspectives and fights, M&E has demonstrated to be useful in leading to the trio benefits of accountability, feedback and learning.

My argument and believe is that M&E needs to be institutionalised not only in governmental and organisational planning processes and documents, but in citizens’ minds and hearts. When that state of being is achieved, Africa shall surely have governments that are results-focused, non-state actors that are results-oriented and ultimately a citizenry that demands for transformational development results. Such an African continent will surely inspire current and future leaderships and generations to demand for nothing but results that improve social circumstances of the masses. Imagine if M&E is known for providing project, programme or policy evidence on what went right, wrong and to some extent why results are positive or negative, what would be the basis for not strengthening M&E? Thus, I contend that indeed, the historical facts about M&E present themselves as an eye opener to today’s and future development policy makers and implementers!

Dr Vincent Kanyamuna holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Monitoring and Evaluation and is lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia, Department of Development Studies. His latest article is titled ‘Monitoring and Evaluation: The missing strand in the African transformational development agenda’.

For comments and views, email: vkanyamuna@unza.zm

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