A lack of learning in the monitoring and evaluation of agriculture projects
Monitoring and evaluation (M&E), monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL), monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL), monitoring, evaluation, research and learning (MERL) monitoring and results management (MRM) or whatever you choose to call it (or them?), should help us learn from experience. Sadly, this is not always the case.
There is an apparent irony in the fact that systems supposedly designed to help us learn from experience have been so reluctant to learn from their own experience. In my view, this is in large part due to the isolation of M&E within programmes and projects, to working in silos and collecting data that do not feed into or help with management decisions. A conclusion reached by an overview of monitoring and evaluation in the World Bank in 1994.
Increasing production benefits is the expected outcome of all agriculture projects that deliver support directly to farmers, so too, market system development programmes. However, and in stark language, anyone with a basic grasp of statistics knows that it is virtually impossible to determine yield and production trends in rain-fed smallholder farming systems within the implementation periods of most projects, let alone attribute them.
And yet, these impossible measurements are still being included in the briefs of project M&E efforts, and donors and managers still see them as valid pursuits. Such efforts are methodologically tricky and time consuming to do properly. The opportunity costs of surveying such indicators are not insignificant – more simple ways of learning from farmers are how they rate and respond to the support, to what extent this varies and the closer relationship with managers and field staff that comes with this task. Information on changes in farmers production practices or not is more important for project management decision-making so should not be trumped by measuring the assumed consequences of these changes
See my experience shared in this blog.
What do you think? I would be happy to hear other experiences…