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Unpacking M&E with Kanyamuna: Evaluation Capacity in Zambia requires huge transformation

The ‘evaluation capacity’ in Zambia requires to undergo a huge transformation if the country is to shift itself from business-as-usual to a more results-oriented development management approach. It is eminent to conclude that the current capacities in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are weak within and among public sector institutions. To be precise, while the capacity to undertake the function of ‘monitoring’ is fairly well developed, that of ‘evaluation’ is worse off. This lag has led to a precarious situation whereby the crusade to embark on a transformational agenda of pursuing development results has become crucially undermined. Yet, it holds true that, if any country or society desires to inculcate and institutionalise the results-based management (RBM) approach, the capacity in M&E (especially in E) should be well entrenched in every rank of any organisation. Definitionally, an ‘evaluation’ refers to a systematic and objective assessment of an ongoing or completed development intervention, be it a project, programme or policy, to ascertain the relevance and fulfillment of objectives, efficiency, effectiveness, impact, and sustainability.

To arrive at the conclusion above, I undertook a study recently and findings were overwhelming, that the evaluation capacity in Zambia’s public sector remains very weak at national, line ministry, provincial, district and sub-district levels. Thus, efforts to fix the existing discrepancy in public sector M&E capacity will undoubtedly demand for resolving prominent aspects identified herein. The study revealed that in terms of holistic capacity for evaluation in Zambia, it was predominantly weak. For example, evaluation skills and financial resources for evaluation were not available. If so, they were at their bare minimum. In all the national development plans (NDPs) and strategic plans for line ministries that were reviewed, mention was made that evaluations shall be carried out. In many cases, they were not undertaken. Key gaps and constraints were centred around human capacity, particularly in generating, managing and utilising evaluation information at all levels. Equally, annual progress reports (APRs) identified human, skills, financial, systemic and political capacity challenges in Zambia’s public sector M&E system. For instance, while there were some negligible government financial allocations to undertake evaluative studies in a few line ministries, there were hardly any budgetary allocations to finance evaluation activities at provincial, district and sub-district level.

The capacity for evaluation and analysis embedded in a country’s M&E system is what governments would need to invest in as they seek to improve governance systems towards poverty reduction. The analysis of development data to make them readily available to those who need them and analytical capacities are requirements on the supply side of an M&E system. M&E outputs that are critical in informing developmental processes such as management and policy decisions depend on the quality and capacity for data and information analysis. The study results showed weaknesses in ‘analysis’ capacities across Zambia’s public sector. The gaps in analysis come in various forms. For instance, in some cases, there are shortages of or limited numbers of skilled officers to undertake sound analysis. In other instances, the capacity to evaluate is non-existent. Yet in others, lack of evaluative tools and clear methodological know-how prevailed across the government.

The study also established that countries that built strong M&E systems have stronger evaluative culture (for example Chile, Colombia, Mexico, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Canada and Australia). These countries invested heavily in building capacities in analysis, so that evaluations of their development interventions became easier and cheaper. Alongside the development of a stronger evaluative culture and practice, the Zambian government, working in collaboration with its stakeholders, will need to invest significantly in analytical skills. To achieve this goal, the starting point would be a comprehensive diagnosis of analytical skills in the country, particularly among institutions in the public sector. Such a study report will then give areas of strength, weakness, opportunity and possible threat (SWOT). The diagnosis would need to take a broader view of stakeholders and aspects of analytical capacities.

Analysis capacities will be needed at all levels of the country’s M&E system. In addition, the analytical capacities of non-state actors will need to be increased in the country so that their participation in the development process will be of value. The role of academia, research institutions and training organisations will be critical in the provision of courses in data analysis and interpretation. The idea will be to develop and sustain a wide range of capable analysts to serve the country in development evaluations and related tasks, at the same time transforming the country’s M&E system. Thus, my remedial proposal is that there must be an ultimate evaluation capacity building plan in the country. Informed by the diagnostic study, the plan should then be cascaded down to all decentralised levels. That way, there will be certainty of addressing the existing analysis gaps across Zambia’s system for M&E as long as commitment through supportive championship and resource allocation is available to those structures.

In addition, there was a suggestion from the study respondents that a national evaluation fund should be established to provide the much-needed financing for various strategic intervention evaluations and reviews. To that extent, it was acknowledged that the current resources for evaluations were neither sufficient, predictable nor sustainable. This gap is important to address and for the country’s M&E system 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.

To conclude, leadership, at the highest level of governance will need to prevail if the evaluative culture in Zambia was to reap desired results. By this I mean, the presidency will need to lead the crusade or agenda to transform Zambia into a pragmatic results-focused country through compulsory evaluation. It is equally desired that other apex institutions such as Cabinet Office, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of National Development Planning all embrace the evaluation culture and use findings to inform their decisions and policy directions.

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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