Since 2009, the United Nations Development Programme Independent Evaluation Office has been organizing the biennial National Evaluation Capacities (NEC) Conference, engaging influential participants from government, civil society and academia from more than 180 countries, representatives from numerous United Nations agencies, as well as bilateral and multilateral partners.
The Seventh NEC Conference took place at the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ITC-ILO) in Turin, Italy, on 25-28 October 2022. Following the upheaval and socioeconomic fragility brought about by the global pandemic, the conference focused on “Resilient National Evaluation Systems for Sustainable Development”.
This blog shares the main points discussed during a panel session convened by EvalForward and the Independent Office of Evaluation of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) at the Seventh NEC Conference. Representatives from Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon and Senegal shared their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) experience at national level and engaged in meaningful discussion with around 40 participants from countries including Burundi, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Mali, Pakistan and Tunisia. The session was webcast and the recording is available here.
The session was called “Innovate in M&E to better respond to the needs of decision makers, with a focus on agriculture and rural development”. Its objective was to identify opportunities to strengthen the culture of results-based management in agriculture and to facilitate the use of M&E for decision-making to improve the impacts of projects and public policy.
Agriculture is central to efforts to eradicate poverty, hunger and malnutrition in Africa and to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger. However, despite efforts to reduce the number of undernourished people, African agricultural production and productivity are lower than the world average amid the challenges of rapid population growth and the threat of climate change. Consequently, it is important that policies, programmes and projects in the agricultural and environmental fields are well designed, based on solid data and monitored for possible changes of course. Decision-making in this sector must be guided by an understanding of what works and what does not ‒ in other words, be informed by evidence produced by functional M&E systems. Moreover, two successive global crises, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have, along with other ongoing conflicts around the world, produced a serious food-access crisis that has fuelled renewed political attention on agriculture and food value chains in several countries.
Key take-aways from the panellists
Rodrigue Siangoye Owoumbou, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer of the Agricultural and Rural Development Project (co-funded by IFAD), shared the ongoing efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture of Gabon to consolidate a national M&E system. He emphasized the importance of national political leadership and the need for all donors to pool their evaluations to consolidate the system, and cited requests from civil society organizations for accountability. A recent diagnostic of the M&E system in the Ministry of Agriculture recommended steps for building on a newly created M&E unit to develop a fully fledged M&E system and to contribute to evidence-based planning and decision-making in the sector. From the audience, the General Director of Public Policy Evaluation at the Ministry of Good Governance and the Fight Against Corruption, Nandrot Mara-Abyla Abala, echoed his words, highlighting political support for a national evaluation system in Gabon.
The second panellist, Youssouf N’Dia, Director of Control, M&E at the Ministry of Planning and Development of Côte d’Ivoire, highlighted the important step his country had taken in introducing evaluation into the Constitution and approving a law on the evaluation of public policy in 2022. The ministry of agriculture is the only ministry with a general directorate on planning and evaluation, underscoring the key role of agriculture in the country’s economy. However, he acknowledged the challenges of undertaking evaluations due to budget and human resource constraints, including the fact that civil servants in the Ministry of Agriculture were mostly agriculture engineers and had not been exposed to or trained in evaluation. A lack of data on food crops compared with export crops was also identified as an additional challenge to the M&E system of the Ivorian agriculture sector.
The third panellist, Mor Seck, Permanent Secretary of the Commission for the Evaluation and Monitoring of Public Policies and Programmes at the Presidency of the Republic of Senegal, shared the body’s recent experience of a first country-led evaluation of the health sector. This will be followed by an evaluation of public agricultural policy, including the environment, in the coming months. Agriculture is also a priority sector for economic and social development in Senegal. He noted the importance of participatory approaches, such as experience capitalization, to capture the voices of citizens in the evaluation process, along with other approaches, such as quantitative impact evaluation.
Lastly, Sekou Tidiani Konaté, Director of Coordination, Cooperation and Planning of the National Institute of Statistics, Djibouti, shared his country’s experience. While the Ministry of Agriculture has yet to start monitoring activities and agriculture currently accounts for less than 1 percent of gross domestic product, the pandemic has prompted key actors to start with an agricultural census. The Association of Evaluators also has a role to play in advancing this agenda.
Comments from the audience and Q&A
There was a vibrant Q&A session. The points raised included the relationship between evaluation processes led by government and external support from technical and financial partners; how locally elected representatives can participate in the M&E of public policy; the role of innovations that can be applied to M&E, such as geospatial information systems and data for building evidence in the agricultural sector; and the consequences of institutional set-ups for national evaluation systems. On the last point, the Senegalese representative clarified that although his commission came under executive power, this showed strong political will to undertake public evaluation. The National Assembly also acts in a controlling role along with the Court of Audit (as it does in the Côte d’Ivoire).
The NEC Conference showed some progress, but also some backward steps and challenges, in building national evaluation systems, which are complex, long-term undertakings. This panel, in particular, highlighted that agriculture could be the lead sector in M&E systems in Africa because of its importance and that it could spearhead a drive among other sectors to develop national evaluation systems and evidence-based decision-making.
The session will further contribute to ongoing debates among the Rome-based United Nations Agencies ‒ IFAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) ‒ on establishing a common approach and tools to better support countries' capacities for M&E in these sectors.