Happy New Year!
Developing effective, inclusive and gender-responsive systems for monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) is high on the agenda of development and humanitarian actors.
If a programme or project has a good monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) or MEAL system, an independent evaluation should take advantage of it. The evaluation can then focus more on the reflective and learning aspects and spend less time and resources on collecting data and information.
Programmes that take advantage of an effective MEL/MEAL function are designed to address the real needs of all people. Actors can measure performance, reflect and learn important lessons. However, often MEL/MEAL systems are limited to ensuring compliance and measuring outputs, outcomes and impact and rarely include cross-cutting issues, such as gender and leave-no-one-behind principles.
With this idea in mind, I proposed a discussion on the theme “developing effective, inclusive and gender-responsive MEAL systems”, in which 19 members participated over the course of two weeks or so. Opinions were invited on both emergency response and development, including agriculture and rural development, and focused on:
- How can we develop effective and inclusive MEAL systems?
- What are the constraints and how do we address them?
I would like to thank all participants. Your contributions made the discussion rich and successful.
Below is an outline of the main messages.
How can we develop effective and inclusive MEAL systems?
- MEL/MEAL systems often focus too much on accountability to donors and on gathering data on results as set out in the results framework or theory of change. Instead, they need to be driven by questions defined by primary users.
- Exploring assumptions matters as much as, if not more than, measuring indicators. Undermining deliberation on assumptions obstructs successful reflection and learning.
- Although numbers generated by M&E are important, they are arguably not as important as learning how they came about.
- For a MEL system to be gender-responsive, it must ascertain the following: inclusivity and intersectionality, the principle of representation, the principle of participation, and equal power relations between (or within) different groups.
- In promoting effective, inclusive and gender-responsive MEL systems, citizen monitoring can be one way to go. It can take the form of a citizen scorecard or some other accountability monitoring tool (such as participatory tools).
- Good MEL/MEAL systems build on good programme/project design. Unless a programme or project mainstreams disability, the elderly, children and different sexual orientations from the design phase, evaluation results commonly do not include such groups of people satisfactorily. Hence, we need to ensure the quality and transparency of the data and make sure that the views of all stakeholders, especially the disadvantaged, are taken into account.
- A good logical model/theory of change is based on the integration of gender analysis and inclusivity. All actors in the chain ‒ the government and its branches (sectoral ministries, regions, municipalities and village committees, including village chiefs or their representatives) ‒ should be involved.
- Indicators must be specified based on the different groups of food-security beneficiaries (pregnant women, people living with disability, children, the elderly, female-headed households, polygamous households where women have their own kitchens and are not dependent on their husbands).
- Gender issues also apply to other vulnerable populations: people with disabilities, people undergoing forced migration, indigenous populations, children, etc.
- Evidence-based programme or project design is a strong foundation for establishing effective, inclusive and gender-responsive MEAL systems. Preparations must be made very early on, upstream of the MEL process. The 4R method could be very effective here, as it identifies project stakeholders based on responsibilities, rights, relationships and revenues.
What are the constraints and how do we address them?
- The level of available and deployable resources comes into question when developing MEAL systems. We need to understand the human resources available in terms of expertise (people who practice evaluation and who have expertise in gender issues), time and funds, especially at country or regional level. Where the required resources do not exist, efforts to develop such capacity should be made from the outset of MEAL system development.
- In emergencies and crisis-affected settings, there are multiple constraints and limitations, including issues of secure access to project sites and intended informants, the availability and reliability of data, and the possible bias of key informants due to their location or affiliation. These constraints can be addressed by using local partners/experts, third-party monitoring and/or modern technology that allows remote monitoring and data collection.
- Because they have been mostly limited to programmes/projects, MEL/MEAL systems have not been able to broaden their scope to learning and its importance to national growth and development. Ultimately, MEL/MEAL systems should be institutionalized in governmental and non-governmental agencies in all sectors.
“Reflection and learning … comes in revealing the unknown through listening to and learning from those in need ‒ excluded and underserved communities ‒ not measuring those in charge.” (Daniel Ticehurst). Daniel’s assertion emphasizes why we need to advocate for inclusive and gender-responsive MEAL systems.
In conclusion, gender-responsiveness is complex. Even humanitarian and development agencies whose programmes have a large gender component can face serious challenges in ensuring gender-responsive MEAL systems, be it at project, programme or organizational level.