A recent IDS Bulletin that I co-edited with Yvonne Pinto, David Bonbright and Johanna Lindstrom has a paper in it that concludes that agriculture is no different and may even be one of the worst offenders. M&E in agriculture is woeful. Why is M&E so weak? The paper provides some evidence to back up the assertions and argues that investment and interest is low because the multiple benefits of good M&E are not identified and when they are, they cannot be captured. The fact that so much M&E goes on undercover allows this situation to persist.
What can be done? In a paper available here, we suggest a new type of M&E is needed, one that is people centred. People centred in the sense that it focuses on wellbeing outcomes, and in the sense that it asks people about what they need and what they think is working. What are some of the components of this approach? It has three.
First, it balances multiple accountabilities through greater participation in programme design and in programme evaluation. The literature on the impacts of these approaches has grown in the past 10 years and shows more successes than failures.
Second, it focuses on enhancing organisational incentives for learning. What needs to change for organisations to engage in single and double loop learning? Beneficiary feedback systems represent one such incentive change, and new donor requirements would provide another.The third feature of this people-centred M&E is that it seeks to build wider learning about M&E, its users and its providers. The semi-closed nature of M&E is killing learning about what works. We need to find ways to let more light into the system.
ALINe, a collaboration between IDS, Keystone Accountability and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one new contribution to the construction of this different view of M&E. It builds on other initiatives such as ILAC and Farmer First Revisited. It is helping farmers get engaged in theory of change discussions, it is evaluating farmer feedback mechanisms in terms of process outcomes and development and wellbeing outcomes, it is analysing organisational incentives for M&E use and it is seeking to open up the M&E sector by promoting the open access of data and new research. We would welcome additional partners.
I believe that M&E in agriculture has to be improved -- this paper has some ideas about how to do it. There are lots of other very good papers in the Bulletin on this and similar issues.
If M&E in agriculture is not improved then we will have wasted the political opportunity represented by the current high interest in food and agriculture. We will have no excuses when the budget axe is eventually aimed at food and agriculture and we will have failed to meet our obligations to the current and future generations of hungry and malnourished people.