Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) Week: Hot Tips on Navigating the Challenges of the Complex Process of Building or Strengthening a Country Level M&E System by Edoé Djimitri Agbodjan

This week’s posts highlight reflections from the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI), a global network of organizations and experts working together to support the strengthening of monitoring, evaluation, and the use of evidence in developing countries. GEI uses an integrated systems-based approach and works closely with governments, evaluation professionals, and other stakeholders on efforts that are country-owned and aligned with local needs and perspectives.

Hi, I am Edoé Djimitri Agbodjan, Director of the Center for Learning on Evaluation and Results for Francophone Africa (CLEAR FA), an implementing partner of the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI). As an expert in M&E capacity building, I provide technical assistance, advice, and training to individuals and organizations in Francophone Africa on how to develop or strengthen an M&E system at the country level.

Developing a country-level M&E system is a complex process. Yet, I could not imagine how complex it actually was until I started working on this process on the ground in several countries. As Jen Heeg wrote in her AEA blog, “Applying Complexity & Equity Principles in Our Collective Work,” complexity refers to “nonlinearity, unanticipated outcomes, and causal pathways that are nonreplicable and knowable only in hindsight.” 

This description well describes the process of developing or strengthening an M&E system at the country level.  This process requires creating an enabling environment, as well as organizational and individual capacities, so that M&E is planned, implemented, and results are used by national stakeholders. Building an M&E system requires improving ownership over the evaluation function and increasing collaboration among M&E stakeholders, in contexts where M&E functions are assigned to a variety of institutional actors (e.g., central government bodies, parliaments, court of auditors, and other institutions). A challenge is to get these actors to agree on the basic principles for planning, designing, and implementing evaluations, despite their cultural differences and personal agendas. The process requires a thoughtful approach. I begin the process by engaging with national stakeholders to agree on a common roadmap (often based on a process of country diagnostics).

However, even with a roadmap in hand, sometimes, the process slows or stops, unanticipated needs surface, important stakeholders change their positions/views, planned actions become irrelevant, and new stakeholders emerge. Outcomes can be unpredictable. Although the most important requirements for working in this context are grit, patience and agility, I’d like to share a few tips to help navigate the challenges of this complex process:

Hot Tips

Diversify your partners. Keeping in mind the African proverb, “You need several arms to encircle a baobab tree” helps overcome obstacles. Partnership is important not only because building an M&E system is an immense task that requires a lot of resources, but because having several partners helps maintain conversation in the event of conflict. Having a variety of partners helps you integrate different perspectives and address potential issues that might be caused by personal opinions and dogmas. Having a full range of individual and institutional partners makes all the difference, especially in a cultural context where interpersonal relationships are important to build trust and get things done.

Choose your entry point carefully. You need a solid understanding of the country context to be aware of existing conflicts or leadership competition, alliances, and in-group/out-group dynamics to be able to choose an effective partnership. Building an M&E system needs to be demand-driven, so it is important to get your partner right from the start. The Monitoring and Evaluation Systems Analysis Diagnostic Tool (MESA), developed by the GEI, is a helpful tool for guiding your understanding of these issues.

Improve your understanding of how evaluation is viewed by stakeholders. Evaluation has widely been defined by focusing on its methodology, goals, approaches – while ignoring its political and socio-cultural dimensions. There is often a gap between how it is defined on paper and what it represents to the stakeholders. In my experience, evaluation appears to be the arena of interactions between social and political actors who seek to determine and legitimate the value of a public intervention. It is thus paramount to be sensitive to, and take into account, the incentives of partners, their political agenda, and stated and unstated objectives.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from GEI 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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