DRG TIG Week: “Decolonizing aid” through everyday M&E practices, by Robinson Chikowero and Roland Kovats

Hello evaluators! We’re Robinson Chikowero (Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Manager, CEADZ activity, Pact Zimbabwe) and Roland Kovats (Chief of Party, USAID/ENGAGE activity, Pact Ukraine). While we’re in vastly different regions, we both work in governance projects operating in complex contexts that aim to increase citizen awareness of and engagement in governing and representative systems: in Zimbabwe, we work to stem the tide that threatens civic space by supporting civic engagement, and in Ukraine, to increase citizen participation in the country’s ambitious European integration agenda.

Of the many challenging aspects of our work, the call to increase local power over development (the so-called “decolonization of aid”) is particularly thorny. Why? Because we operate in contexts in which citizen representation itself is limited and often threatened: how should we operate in a manner that supports the drive to “decolonize aid” in situations where basic rights – including freedom of speech – are not always available, and given our modest contributions and contractual funding limitations?

We can do so through our everyday practices: in both of our projects we have worked to increase the voice of project stakeholders in the design, monitoring and evaluation of the project. This reflects Pact’s overall approach to engaging communities in their own projects: as much as possible, at Pact we work through local implementing partners – our change agents – because we find that to be more sustainable and more accountable. In doing so, we hope that they own – as much as possible – the trajectory of the project and define what success is in their own terms.

Photo of Residents presenting their service delivery issues to during the budget consultative meeting in one of Zimbabwe’s rural districts

Residents presenting their service delivery issues to during the budget consultative meeting in one of Zimbabwe’s rural districts

In Zimbabwe we’ve used Outcome Mapping to empower project partners by supporting them to design their own interventions through “outcome challenges” and establish their own criteria of success using “graduated progress markers.” As a result, partners designed program interventions in ways that reflected a response to the changing environment as well as their own dynamic organizational contexts. They did so based on evidence generated through “outcome journals” which reinforced evaluative thinking through critical reflection and adaptation based on evidence. Outcome Mapping also promoted inclusivity and collaboration between partners and indirect change agents (“boundary partners”), thereby enhancing an integrated approach and ensuring the project includes change pathways defined by communities themselves. In this way we were able to promote their ownership of the overall project and contribute in our small way to the rectification of aid power imbalances.

In Ukraine, we’ve also worked to maximize citizen voice in programmatic strategies. We’ve used a broad spectrum of direct citizen feedback – such as surveys – in addition to more participatory processes, such as project design co-creation and collaboration activities and joint learning approaches to adapt programming. For example, we conduct learning reviews on a quarterly basis with project partners, who are often at the forefront of change. These reflection moments enable these change agents to discuss project progress, determine what has been learned and how that should adapt programming, and what needs to be learned to improve moving forward. This has empowered them by enabling them to determine core project strategies, rather than solely Pact determining them, which – like in the Pact Zimbabwe example – has allowed us at our more micro level to rebalance power and accountability over development aid.

In both our Zimbabwe and Ukraine examples we’ve used monitoring, evaluation, research and learning processes to promote citizen engagement – and often ownership over! – their own aid interventions, despite our own funding and contractual limitations. How have you done so?

Rad Resources/Hot Tips:

  • Outcome Mapping cannot be an afterthought, but rather should be built in from the outset: this will ensure that change agent strategies and their self-defined criteria of success are adopted by the program itself rather than treated as ancillary.
  • Build complexity-responsive and evidence-based adaptive management systems to work in dynamic contexts
  • Use cross-tabulation and cross-referencing of national survey samples and program participant responses to unravel deeper learning (for example, see Anticorruption Perception and Experience Poll and the USAID/ENGAGE Civic Engagement Poll).

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Democracy, Human Rights & Governance TIG Week with our colleagues in the Democracy, Human Rights & Governance Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our DRG TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

1 thought on “DRG TIG Week: “Decolonizing aid” through everyday M&E practices, by Robinson Chikowero and Roland Kovats”

  1. Hello,

    I enjoyed reading it and learning about the two projects in Zimbabwe and Ukraine. The term “decolonizing aid” jumped out at me–pleasantly–to be honest. I commend Chikowero and Kovats for working to give more autonomy of the program to stakeholders and community partners in their respective countries. I think that this inclusion unequivocally engages participants and gives them a sense of ownership and accountability of their projects.
    I also like the “outcome mapping” strategy, which focuses more on the process of improvement rather than the outcome of the program. Furthermore, it promotes self-reflection throughout the process and makes sure that the program adheres to its self-defined markers of success (Robinson, 2021).

    Robinson, S. (2021, September 14). DRG TIG Week: “Decolonizing aid” through everyday M&E practices, by Robinson Chikowero and Roland Kovats. American Evaluation Association. https://aea365.org/blog/drg-tig-week-decolonizing-aid-through-everyday-me-practices-by-robinson-chikowero-and-roland-kovats/#respond

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