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Unpacking M&E with Vincent Kanyamuna: The political and technical aspects of M&E systems

TODAY, I deliver a policy focused proposition of working towards a better Zambia, a predictable Zambia and a Zambia that every citizen dreams to see. When fully implemented by those discharged with the instruments of power and authority, we should have a Zambia as envisioned in our national aspiration – the Vision 2030. We will also as Zambia reasonably contribute to the African Union Agenda 2063 – of the Africa We Want! The niche of my views are anchored on the unwavering conviction that monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is the missing ‘vital’ not only in Africa, but in Zambia particularly. More so, the political and technical aspects of M&E will need to be seriously and deliberately nurtured by governments and accountability functions. M&E issues are predominantly politically motivated. This aspect is usually embedded in the nature of information that M&E systems provide. Monitoring information and evaluation findings tend to give detailed indications of how public resources are being utilised. However, most implementers do not like to place such information in the public domain for fear of being victimised or condemned by the public and other stakeholders for possible misappropriation. Many M&E practitioners have concluded that when results-based information is brought into the public arena, it could change the dynamics of institutional relationships, personal political agendas, planning, budgeting and resource allocations,and general public perceptions of government effectiveness. As a consequence of these strong and deep-rooted vested interests, counter-reformers may emerge in and outside government to oppose all efforts to build functional systems for M&E.
Governments need to ensure that there are strong institutional arrangements so that the M&E functionis implemented with the expected quality. But this requires a long-term M&E system characterised by sustained strategising and planning. M&E systems are often considered threats to government officials and project managers because staff reductions, budget cuts and criticism from higher levels such as donors and civil society groups may arise after poor evaluation findings. These political dynamics in the management of M&E systems, if not managed well, could lead to poor governance with a broken-down public accountability system allowing vices such as corruption and misapplication of resources. As a result, developing countries have to address this aspect if their whole-of-government M&E systems are to function well. Aside from being a political process, M&E is characterised by technical aspects. The technical issues surrounding the functionality of M&E systems are crucial aspects that require good care by governments and organisations. The areas of concern when designing and building an M&E system include producing relevant, trustworthy and timely information about the performance of government projects, programmes, and policies. Relevant and adequate institutional capacities and skills are also significant in determining a well-performing M&E system. For instance, capacities of successful and comprehensive construction and utilisation of performance indicators denote an important competence.

Consequently, governments should have well-trained employees who are able to carry out these functions effectively and efficiently. For many developing countries, this may be a challenge, but governments need to invest significantly in these areas to ensure M&E responsibilities are handled by technically qualified civil servants. Therefore, failure to have in place technically skilled government officers and managers in building successful national M&E systems that are credible and trustworthy to bring about high-quality information is a challenge. Given the above, it is my considered view that if developing countries, like Zambia, are to score positive economic growth and development results, government focus will need to be on strengthening ownership of M&E systems – the whole-of-government M&E systems. I observe so because the incapability of developing countries to build and sustain their own M&E systems is probably the leading factor in creating institutions and systems that promote good governance and poverty reduction. There are notable levels of satisfaction from among development actors around the globe that control and ownership of M&E systems by governments themselves would provide stableand sustainable enjoyment of the benefits offered by such systems -accountability, feedback mechanisms and learning. But the reality is that many poor countries rely on donor support to conduct M&E functions and to build M&E systems. It is even more problematic because these countries borrow almost every aspect of M&E from the developed countries. This is not to say it is unnecessary to seek improved ways of building M&E systems, but the challenge concerns the dependence that poor countries have given themselves to developed nations.

This overdependence situation is obviously going to lead to more problems regarding the sustainability of these M&E systems in developing countries, Zambia inclusive. As a better and more sustainable alternative, developing countries first need to create greater demand for M&E to utilise it proactively to inform policy and decision-making processes. Through such use of M&E, these countries would then inculcate a culture of building and strengthening their own results-based M&E systems in their institutions, and this would lead to stronger ownership of these systems. This will be unavoidable because the experience of creating these M&E systems would differ in dynamics and scope between the developing countries and their counterparts in developed countries, despite the practical lessons that could be drawn from successfully implemented systems in developed countries.

Dr Vincent Kanyamuna holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Monitoring and Evaluation and is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia, Department of Development Studies.

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

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