I agree this is a wonderful discussion and I am fully in line with Silva.
Sound like a platitude here, but I was always convinced M&E systems should be owned and developed by programme team/stakeholders/beneficiaries engagement. Though, for the last 18 months, I was fully engaged to support a programme at this level (this is under programme direction) thinking it was the greatest opportunity of all time and I would make the best of it.
But the result is disappointing, to say the least. Beware whenever you ear « we don’t want to shoot ourself in the foot, do we? ». Or whenever official communication is about self-promotion/self-gratification (how fantastic we are, etc.) while beneficiaries did not witness yet anything happening in their direct surroundings or daily life.
I think one of the key is where evaluation fits in the organizational chart (see below). How do M&E officers at project level interact with M&E officers at programme level and so on? How do M&E people in charge at programme level interact with any evaluation office at Managing director level or any existing « independent evaluation office » attached to the executive board. Setting up a MEAL system being a support function but also serving accountability : how both functions coordinate and complement one another?
Also, do we have M&E professional at project level but also at stakeholder levels (governments, donors and primarily beneficiary representative levels, etc.) and are they all connected before we can say a M&E system is in place?
A good practice I have seen is to have the steering committee (contractually) validating the M&E system at the end of inception period.
Another common thought is that evaluation is a state of mind rather than complex technical instruments (Lal. mentions How to make ‘planners’ understand an evaluation. - which is correct though sometimes evaluation is not only spontaneously understood but pushed in internally).
Then you have a risk of a « double sentence » for final beneficiaries. Engaged programme managers that even intuitively fully embrace evaluation and make the most of it while at the same time « reluctant » ecosystem that will use blackholes in the organisation chart for evaluation to take place too late, not linked to strategical decision-making and finally extract nice color charts with « number of people trained » and usual stuff.
Happy to participate, hope this conversation keeps going ;-)