The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that robust and credible monitoring and evaluation systems are vital to ensure development projects and programs improve the lives of people most in need.
Why does monitoring and evaluation matter? Designing and implementing development projects without a strong monitoring and evaluation system is like sending a rocket to Mars with no ground control, no tracking system and no cameras to record the successful landing.
From the moment a development project or program takes off, it is essential to regularly monitor progress towards its goals, to allow for course correction if needed, and at completion to measure and evaluate successes and failures, so that lessons can be learned for future projects.
If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything it is that robust and credible monitoring and evaluation systems provide for tracking, real-time feedback, course correction and learning. This is vital to ensure that development projects and programs deliver on their goals of improving the lives of people most in need.
The value of monitoring and evaluation lies in the information it provides about the performance of a project or program: what works, what does not, and why.
Results measurement, monitoring and evaluation and the need to strengthen national capacities to collect reliable data are vital for the delivery of development programs and will underpin the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and ADB’s own strategic goals.
Core to monitoring and evaluation is the establishment of a robust and credible project self-evaluation system. Our team has developed a model of such system and identified its three key characteristics: reliability, timeliness and usefulness. The system is reliable if it generates data and information that are available and complete to ensure sound reporting on performance and results throughout the project cycle. The system is timely if its products are delivered at the right time to inform operations and decision making. Finally, the system is useful if it supports accountability while also generating knowledge that can be used to feed into new projects and inform wider institutional learning.
The value of monitoring and evaluation lies in the information it provides about the performance of a project or program.
And yet, project monitoring systems are sometimes the weakest link of the self-evaluation system, particularly at design and implementation. This limits the immense benefit of using project monitoring data to disseminate results and in turn affects the capacity to demonstrate progress on the ground and foster learning.
How do we ensure that projects are guided by robust and credible monitoring and evaluation systems? What can be done to ensure that our rocket lands on Mars and starts to send back reliable data for evaluation and learning?
First, at design, projects must chart their course through the establishment of targets that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound and flexible enough to ensure a project’s adaptability to changing circumstances. This is central both to effective management of the project and to wider governance.
Without such targets, and clear baselines before implementation, the true trajectory of a project cannot be determined and at completion its achievements will be uncertain. Second, equally important during implementation is reliable data collection, management methods and databases for the efficient storage and access of monitoring information, in tandem with adequate support and training to enhance in-country monitoring and evaluation capacities.
Finally, the monitoring function works when it is underpinned by the right incentives such as recognizing monitoring and evaluation work in performance assessments, budgeting sufficient staff time, and strong signals from management emphasizing the value of objectivity in self-evaluation reports and learning from failures.
These are important areas that deserve immediate attention and in which multilateral development banks, including ADB, and international organizations at large, need to invest moving forward.
Monitoring and evaluation matter at all levels, contexts and circumstances to enhance development effectiveness. When a robust and credible system for monitoring is in place, we are more confident at evaluation that not only can we verify that our rocket landed safely on Mars but we also can account for the investment and learn from the experience for future expeditions.