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Unpacking M&E with Kanyamuna: Invest in strengthening government-wide M&E system – Part I

THE Zambian government is currently implementing a weak system for monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Yes, any national system for M&E that seeks to operate to the satisfaction of its stakeholders requires two aspects to be fully functional. These are capacity to supply monitoring and evaluation (M&E) information, and capacity to demand and use M&E information. The contention is that once these two aspects are fully developed, they would help to generate country-specific information and assist in identifying roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in pursuit of building and sustaining what I called elsewhere, a whole-of-government monitoring and evaluation (WoGM&ES) – or simply a government-wide M&E system.

Today, I discuss Part I highlighting aspects key to strengthening the ‘supply-side’ of our Zambian government-wide M&E system. Next week, I turn to Part II of unpacking the elements crucial to strengthening the ‘demand-side’. My intention and encouragement to readers, practitioners and students of M&E or indeed the proponents of results-based management is that, to build a stronger system for M&E (i.e. for any project, programme or policy), you need to structure the M&E function to be responsive to both the supply and demand sides. More so, a great deal of capacity and determination from those who pursue the task of strengthening national M&E – in our case, the government and its key stakeholders is required. Let’s appreciate the specific supply-side success points:

Institutional context and design: This aspect is concerned with the recognition that for a successful government-wide (G-wide) M&E system to exist, stakeholders and their buy-in are critical. Positive relationships and collaborations among these stakeholders in the functionality of M&E are understood to be the foundation for a thriving culture of M&E in the country. However, care need to be taken that attaining stakeholder buy-in should be dependent on the nature of the system design and its process, which include mapping existing M&E arrangements that identify the main stakeholder dynamics. Similarly, the process should involve identifying and analysing strengths and weaknesses and providing clear statements of political commitment to effective M&E; having transformative champions, who advocate for a shared system across all government administrative structures; and putting in place an arrangement to serve as a consultation and facilitation platform that assists stakeholders in articulating their needs and expectations.

Leadership: Experience has suggested that the choice of any institutional leadership for the system is critical, because the function of leadership is better located close to the centre of government or placed under the budget function, depending on where effective power and authority over the national development planning (NDP) process is situated. Regardless of location, the leadership role must be given serious attention in every institution and needs to benefit from skilled and dedicated staff and adequate resources.

Coordination: Organising a coordination mechanism that is effective from among the development agencies could be one of the most challenging undertakings in creating a G-wide M&E system. Effective support from a secretariat or central agency could ensure that stakeholder meetings were focused and substantive. However, such an agency or secretariat would need to be conversant with national priorities as listed in NDPs and possess skills and experience in mediating stakeholders to find common ground. Thus, the secretariat should be a relatively small but highly competent unit at central level. To be effective, such a unit needs strong and stable qualified and practically committed staffing that focuses on unifying all state and non-state M&E mechanisms.

Liaison with line ministries: In practice, a G-wide M&E system is dependent on the quality of sectoral and other decentralised information systems. The national level M&E system may be required to incorporate strategies for promoting M&E among line ministries, provinces and districts, using rules and guidelines that demand the incorporation of M&E functions in departmental work plans, budgets and staff job descriptions. To design and implement such institutional environments, M&E capacity strengthening programmes across line ministries will be needed to produce the data for the system.

Links to the national statistical system: There is a fundamental requirement to ensure that there are functional complementarities between the statistical system and the G-wide M&E system. It is usually the responsibility of national statistics agencies to set up quality and technical standards for use by administrative data producers in their work of technical capacity building backstopping. However, owing to poor funding modalities to national statistics institutes (i.e. Zambia Statistics Agency), which is usually biased towards financing large surveys and statistical operations, support to strengthening the M&E function and its complementary roles remains weaker.

Involvement of local governments: The design of local monitoring arrangements depends on the government structure and predominantly on the degree of fiscal and policy autonomy given to local governments. In an attempt to develop functional G-wide M&E arrangements, some countries are continuously encouraging local governments to create, strengthen and sustain their own M&E systems so that in the long run will support the objective of desired decentralisation. For Zambia, this is something that currently remains highly fragmented and weak.

Information communications and technology: On the supply side of any M&E system, it is important to invest heavily in information communication technology (ICT). ICT provides the platform under which information is effectively and efficiently collected, stored, analysed, reported and disseminated to stakeholders. Management information systems (MISs) that are powered by ICT offer easy solutions to M&E and coordination and information sharing faster and more comprehensive. Through ICT, integrating individually developed and in some instances parallel M&E systems becomes feasible and this helps in achieving a G-wide M&E system. Thus, in a world in which information technology has spread and become the common way of development operation, the government of Zambia has all the motivation to embark on ICT development to support its G-wide M&E system. I am sure the SMART Zambia Institute was established to also support that role.

(To be continued next week).

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: vkanyamuna@unza.zm

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