IN Zambia presently, the knowledge, mastery and actual conduct of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is predominantly on the low side. While M&E indisputably plays an important role in delivering quality decisions and policies in both public and private institutions, very few people, including professionals appreciate the notions of monitoring and that is evaluation. As technical concepts in comprehension and practice, some more work in form of research is required. Within government institutions, the problem is similar—the understanding and execution of M&E across sectors and professions remain a huge discrepancy. To those interested in contributing to the positive understanding and practice of M&E in Zambia’s public sector and beyond, I challenge and encourage ourselves to invest limitlessly in unpacking the concepts of M&E through research. These could be study projects involving individual persons or institutions. In mind, I have specific areas of M&E research potential in Zambia:
• Investigate the functional relationships of good governance institutions in Zambia: The role of M&E is to enhance good governance through the promotion of transparency and accountability by those tasked with the responsibility of utilising public resources. Zambia’s whole-of-government M&E system is expected to cut across all three arms of government—executive, legislature and judiciary. Therefore, more research will be needed to understand which institutions in these arms of government need to be part of the government M&E system. For instance, studies will be required to determine the role of various actors in strengthening the country system. Institutions such as the Office of the Auditor General (OAG), Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), judiciary, and parliament will form a firm basis for creating and sustaining a stronger M&E system.
• Introduce and sustain a culture of streamlined planning and budgeting for results: While efforts have been made to simplify the planning and budgeting processes, especially through Public Finance Management (PFM) reforms and the launch of the 2014 National Planning and Budgeting Policy, more clarity is needed on ways to actualise these policy provisions. For instance, practical challenges exist in linking, sequencing, articulating and developing different plans at different levels in the country (i.e. country vision, national development plans, medium term expenditure frameworks, annual budgets, sector strategic plans, provincial and district plans). Studies focused on making the linkages between planning and budgeting processes would enhance the results-based culture in Zambia. To avoid rhetorically motivated planning, a transformative culture of streamlined planning and budgeting for results should be the driving force behind these studies.
• Identify the technical and political aspects of M&E in Zambia: The whole-of-government M&E system will need to be strengthened on the supply side and the demand side. However, doing so will require in-depth understanding of all critical operational and technical issues surrounding the system. Although technical issues may seem obvious to identify, political aspects may be complex to identify and resolve. As a bearer of good and bad news, M&E may not always go well with those tasked to design and implement M&E systems. Thus, more research studies will be required to understand currently unclear perspectives of M&E, so that ways are found to simplify the articulation and design of M&E arrangements. Issues of weak M&E coordination, autonomy and overall poor power relations among institutions, especially the M&E role of the auditor general, parliament, statistics and civil society, need to be elaborated.
• Develop and implement a robust exchange programme with best M&E practising countries and organisations: Putting in place a functional whole-of-government M&E system is neither a one-off activity nor a short- or medium-term undertaking. It must be seen as a continuous and long-term endeavour of building, reviewing, strengthening and participatory process. As Zambia works to build its national system for M&E, there would be need to learn from other countries with success stories in implementing whole-of-government monitoring and evaluation systems through structured collaborations. Since such countries as South Africa, Uganda, Colombia, Chile, and Australia may have similar experiences to Zambia, learning from them would work well for Zambia.
• Establish a financing architecture for government M&E system: One of the outstanding reason given for weak M&E implementation across the whole-of-government M&E system for Zambia’s public sector pertains to inadequacies and in many instances lack of finances. The current budget support approach seems to fall short of the desired investment in creating a thriving country system for M&E. Innovative financing options which will help government and its stakeholders to practically deal with the current financial resource challenge are needed. In-depth studies may bring out salient alternatives to the M&E financing architecture for Zambia. Such M&E financial support strategies will for instance ascertain where resources to evaluate the vision, national plans, strategic programmes and projects will be sourced from and give predictable estimates of expenditure.
• Re-engineer the public sector planning architecture focused on development results: M&E function thrives on good and results-oriented planning. In many cases, plans across government structures (at national, line ministry, provincial & district) are currently fragmented and in some cases missing. There are many line ministries with outdated strategic plans while others either were implementing draft plans or had no official plans altogether. The situation is likely to be worse at provincial and district level. For the few that possess plans, there could be notable weak linkages with respective national development plans. In that regard, it could be difficult to map out clear linkages between given national development plans and the other plans at decentralised levels. Even worse, there could be de-linkages that exist between implementation mechanisms as well as M&E frameworks. Therefore, these gaps demand that all planning at all levels of government should be responsive to a results-based planning. Hence, future studies will have to consider appreciating the whole range of public policy and guidelines on planning, budgeting, implementation, oversight, legislation and geo-political aspects of national development.
Wish you all a happy festive season and God’s care!
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. For comments and views, email: firstname.lastname@example.org