LAST week, I presented part I, which articulated the fundamental ingredients in bringing about a strengthened supply-side of the whole-of-government monitoring and evaluation system for Zambia. The expert ideas offered are ultimately meant for use by those discharged with the responsibility of improving and sustaining public sector monitoring and evaluation (M&E) function. In Part II, I turn to the demand-side of building and strengthening government-wide M&E system (G-Wide M&E system). Like the supply-side, organising the demand side of a country’s M&E system is not an easy undertaking. It requires a great deal of capacity and determination from those who pursue the task – in our case, the government and its key stakeholders. Just to keep the principle and practice in check, what I implore proponents and implementers of stronger systems for M&E is to always know that, every M&E system has two sides – the demand and supply sides. Both have to be fully developed (though not necessarily simultaneously) to get the complete value from such M&E systems.
What I am advocating for essentially is that in addition to putting in place an effective institutional supply side, it is critical to build a robust demand-side for an M&E system to operate successfully. This is so because effective demand is crucial and depends on many factors outside the scope of a G-Wide M&E system and cannot easily be institutionalised. For the Zambian government, it will be helpful to know exactly the components that make-up the basis for strengthening the demand-side of our G-Wide M&E system. Thus, below I articulate some necessary ingredients that constitute the demand-side of an M&E system:
Analysis and evaluation: For an M&E system to have a robust and well-developed demand side, it is necessary to invest in the capacities to undertake quality analysis and evaluation of policies and programmes. If these practices are still in their infancy, an M&E system may introduce them in phases, for instance starting with the collection of quality data, followed by capacity building for analysis of data, and finally, the institutionalisation of the practice of utilising the data to evaluate policies and programmes.
Outputs and dissemination: There should be commitment to the compilation and analysis of appropriate outputs of M&E information in readiness for their dissemination and distribution to a wider audience within and outside government. The ultimate usefulness of any M&E system is really the ability for its information to be utilised by stakeholders. A good G-Wide M&E system will generate a range of outputs to meet the information needs of various audiences and will include a dissemination strategy that reaches all its intended users. For example, all development issues of relevance to local communities will be appropriately reported within suitable M&E outputs designed for the general public.
Linking G-Wide M&E system to planning and budgeting processes: Creating a link between the G-Wide M&E system and the planning and budgeting processes is a powerful way of generating demand for M&E products. Thus, when agencies bid for public resources, this is an opportunity to ask them to justify their policies and plans, based on evidence provided by M&E data. For instance, in linking the G-Wide M&E system to the budget, care needs to be taken to avoid undesired effects. M&E data will not always be satisfactory and used to set annual priorities for expenditure. Attributing the results to spending could be problematic, especially when multiple interventions could have influenced the results. For instance, if budget releases were unreliable, it could lead to difficulties in holding public sector implementers accountable for their performance. Consequently, simply because the responsible agency may have performed poorly at M&E, sanctions may be difficult to enforce since they might lead to cuts in funding for some interventions.
Role of parliament: Parliament should be a key user of M&E information from poverty reduction interventions. However, in practical terms, parliament has not been proactively involved in the activities of G-Wide M&E system. Therefore, without a strong committee system, supported by experienced research staff, our parliament is generally unable to engage effectively with the executive on policy issues. As an example, public committee hearings on NDP implementation, based on annual progress reports (APRs) and other outputs, would help to raise the profile of a G-Wide M&E system. This process would be enhanced if the role of parliamentary committees was institutionalised in the G-Wide M&E system or if technical and financial support was provided to parliament. To assist in interpreting data, parliamentarians may draw on expertise in civil society and academia, thus helping to forge useful alliances and broaden the inputs into the policy process.
Organising civil society participation: The Zambia Statistics Agency (ZSA) can play various roles in a G-Wide M&E system as producers and users of M&E information. A G-Wide M&E system may therefore provide an opportunity to sustain participation of these actors over a longer period. The extent and nature of civil society participation in a G-Wide M&E system varies considerably. For instance, where civil society is already highly mobilised around development issues, popular participation in development policy tends to be well institutionalised and sometimes supported by legal mandates. On the other hand, where there is little tradition of civil society involvement in the policy process, building up interest and capacity in such involvement must be a longer-term goal.
Role of Cabinet and presidency: The presidency, through its constant and practical use of evidence from M&E functions of government can form a strong demand for M&E in Zambia. In any case, M&E championship at the level of Cabinet and indeed the Presidency would constitute a sure way of transforming our country towards a more results-oriented society.
Take note, in both the theoretical and practical dimensions of setting up M&E systems, there are notable gaps in understanding what should be done to develop and sustain stronger G-wide M&E systems. My contribution herein is meant to simplify this conundrum amongst practitioners as well as students of M&E in Zambia and beyond. A good knowledge of the supply-side and demand-side of any M&E system is what forms the basis for pursuing a successful agenda of results-based management, good governance and better life for all.
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