Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monitoring and Evaluation ... does not work well!

Dear Colleagues

Tomorrow I will attend a meeting at UNDP about Monitoring and Evaluation in Fragile and Conflict Situations. I am curious to see whether anything of significance is going to emerge!

I trained a long time ago as an engineer before adding economics and accountancy to my management tools ... which I used professionally and in corporate management for many years. From engineering I learned something of control theory, and the idea that measurement and feedback were very important in having control and getting the performance one wanted. This works very well in the corporate world with management information guiding decision making ... and follow up data to show decisions are leading to the desired performance.

However, when I started working with international official relief and development assistance (ORDA) organizations ... the World Bank, the UN agencies, the bilateral donors and NGOs ... one of my first lessons was that something called Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) was at the core of the ORDA management process ... and did not work. From the very beginning it seemed to me that the effectiveness of M&E with respect to project performance was minimal. The approach was "too little and too late".

To my horror M&E has remained a big part of ORDA sector project oversight now for some 40 years. From my perspective it is no wonder that progress and performance in the ORDA world has been so weak. The integration of process and metrics is dysfunctional ... there has to be much more timely measurement and feedback ... much more attention to progress and impact rather than merely activity ... being in motion!

I therefore argue that a management information focus in the ORDA sector would change performance significantly ... and that there are no valid technical reasons why such a change cannot be made quickly.

It seems that the main reason that a change to better performance metrics is not getting made is simply that the decision makers either do not know how to have better metrics, or they do not want to have better metrics. Improving M&E is on the agenda in the ORDA sector ... but replacing M&E with something that is really timely and more powerful does not seem to be part of this agenda.

Vive the "status quo"!

Peter Burgess

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