Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) forms an important part of good governance by assisting organisations and governments to systematically and in a predictable manner track, measure and learn from what works, what does not work and gives insights on reasons why. Good M&E enhances evidence-based decision- and policy- making processes. Because of the huge interest and expertise in the subject matter of M&E, I recently took time to undertake some research study to appreciate the M&E capacities in the public sector of our country. The findings were amazingly mixed. While there were some good efforts in place, M&E capacity across government structures did not inspire a desired transformational shift towards a results-based management approach for Zambia. To do better, it has occurred to me that I should share my selected findings with a deliberate view in mind that those discharged with governance responsibilities may find some action points to build and strengthen the whole-of-government M&E system (WoGM&ES) for Zambia, moving forward.
In terms of holistic capacity for M&E in Zambia, some capacity was reported to be in place (e.g. presence of minimal skills & financial resources), although not at all levels of government. In all the national development plans (NDPs) and strategic plans for line ministries that were reviewed, mention was made that human capacity, particularly in generating, managing and utilising M&E information, was constrained at all levels—national, sector, provincial and district levels. Equally, annual progress reports (APRs) identified human, skills, financial, technical, systemic and political capacity challenges in Zambia’s WoGM&ES. For instance, while there were some negligible government financial allocations to undertake M&E activities in a few line ministries, there were hardly any budgetary allocations to finance M&E activities at provincial, district and sub-district level. The same scenario obtained for human, skills, technical and political capacities for M&E. For resources, it was gathered that financing project or programme evaluations posed a challenge across all public sector institutions.
As a result, there was a suggestion from the study respondents that a national evaluation fund should be established to provide the much-needed financing for various evaluations and necessary reviews. To that extent, it was acknowledged that resources for evaluations were neither sufficient, predictable nor sustainable. This gap was important to address and for the WoGM&ES to thrive, capacity-building will need to be embedded in all institutions and local training institutions will also need to take the lead in providing programmes that equip practitioners to conduct quality evaluations.
Further, it was reported that no overall capacity-building programme or plan was in place to help strengthen the M&E capacity of staff or evaluation practitioners at national, line ministry, provincial and district level. No such arrangement was mentioned to be in place, except for trainings, which were ad hoc and came mainly through donor support. However, it was gathered that plans were under way to establish one such programme in collaboration with local training institutions. With regard to substantive capacity-building efforts in monitoring, analysis, and evaluation currently under way in the country, it was found that only a plan was in place to partner with the Zambia Monitoring and Evaluation Association (ZaMEA) and other local training institutions.
Local academic institutions were designing curricula on the subject matter of M&E. The focus of the capacity-building programme being proposed at national level was mostly on evaluation capacities. In terms of the sustainability aspect of the capacity-building efforts and the ability to retain the capacities created over the medium and long term, it was gathered that the model to be adopted will recommend practical ways to achieve the desired M&E capacities. If the capacity building programme is established in such a way that it is a partnership between government, ZaMEA, academic institutions and development partners, it is expected to have a high level of sustainability. In another view, it was mentioned that the retention of current capacity was affected by the transfer of staff from one institution to another.
It was established that great potential existed for in-country universities and other training organisations to provide training in data collection, monitoring, analysis, and evaluation to various actors in the WoGM&ES. The University of Zambia (UNZA), for instance, currently offers a variety of short courses in M&E and in 2019 introduced the first ever Post Graduate Diploma in M&E. There was great potential and interest, as observed by the infusion of M&E training courses in most programmes at UNZA and other institutions. However, it was reported that what may be missing was standardisation of concepts and M&E approaches and comprehensiveness of the training programmes. There was also emphasis on the need for stronger collaboration between institutions of learning and government institutions to transfer M&E skills and experience in the industry.
Regarding efforts to remove or avoid overlaps in data collection by line ministries and other institutions providing services through interconnecting their management information systems (MISs), it was gathered that no such arrangements existed. Only plans were under way through the implementation of a unified and integrated WoGM&ES and a strengthened national statistical function were mentioned. As a result, it was revealed that there were currently several duplications in data collection, compilation and analysis activities across government institutions. Further, MISs were reported as not being included in many government structures and this created mismatches and inconsistencies in harmonising possible overlaps and duplications. The availability of information systems to the public through internet platforms (e.g. websites) was acknowledged as being in existence, but only to a limited extent. For instance, through the Zambia Statistics Agency (ZSA) (formerly central statistical office/CSO) website, almost all the information and reports were reported to be available to the public using the Internet, but the accessibility was usually hampered by poor network connectivity that often interrupted the statistical online platform.
In conclusion, my study established that some current weaknesses in the WoGM&ES were identified, though not based on a broadened diagnosis. In particular, human, skills, financial, systemic and political capacities were lacking. Equally, the recently launched National M&E Policy for Zambia also identifies some of these gaps. For many of the issues raised above, I reaffirm that Zambia’s public sector M&E capacity remains seriously inadequate, but can be revamped provided a good mix of expertise and good leadership will exist.
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