From 5 to 7 September 2012, a group of people from the three Africa RISING regions (re-baptized ‘mega sites’, i.e. West Africa, Ethiopian Highlands and East and Southern Africa) met to elaborate monitoring and evaluation (M&E) directions for the program. This workshop was organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It aimed at bringing together participants from all areas of the program to collectively agree on the components of a monitoring and evaluation framework that would encompass both the day to day monitoring issues and the broader and longer term evaluation questions that would inform the ways in which Africa RISING might bring about impact).
Over the three days, the participants shared progress on the research framework (which guides the research approach for the entire program) and on research activities in the three mega sites, heard about the plans of IFPRI around a series of data platforms and M&E activities. They also considered site characterization and discovered tools that IFPRI and its partners from SpatialDev are using to collect data in Africa RISING. Most importantly, they discussed a series of important issues: who has what responsibilities in M&E in the program, how to include and adapt the global Feed the Future indicators to Africa RISING, what are the key evaluation questions that we should focus on and try to answer, what approaches and methods will help us answer these evaluation questions?
In the process, the group grappled with a number of challenges or paradoxes:
- How to combine the differences in ideas and priorities between the IFPRI team (in charge of global M&E and data collection) and the regional/national implementation teams (in charge of implementing it), when the former needs consistent data collection and rigorous evaluation design and the latter need practical and relevant M&E activities that support their work;
- Balancing monitoring (keeping track of ongoing efficiency) and evaluation (ensuring effectiveness of the project and leading from research outputs to outcomes) across the three mega sites, which may have different priorities;
- Dealing with USAid and development partner preferences (e.g. for specific sites to carry out the work) as opposed to scientists’ preferences (e.g. for sites that make sense to their research design);
- How different can the M&E approaches be across the three mega-sites?
- Is it possible to have a rigorous ‘randomization’ across action research sites when the planting season and development partners’ preferences argue against a thorough and thought-through approach to choosing the ‘treatment’ sites (where Africa RISING is working) and the ‘control’ sites (similar sites that offer a comparative to assess the relative impact of Africa RISING)?
This raised some ‘chicken-and-egg’ situations, as multiple issues relate to and inform each other, from research design to partnership building, from early win activities to the wider program, from monitoring and evaluation to coordination. Much work therefore has to be iterative, in order to peel off the different layers of complexity and integration one by one and delve into the details of this integration as every aspect of the program becomes increasingly clearer.
The upcoming series of regional ‘planning and review’ workshops aim to bring together the different strands of this complex program and to provide a compelling and useful monitoring and evaluation framework that supports the work in the three program ‘mega sites’.
Despite these challenges, in the last session where participants looked at the next steps (beyond this workshop) they concluded that they had done much progress in the workshop and that particularly the agreements on the roles and responsibilities and on the prioritized evaluation questions were important milestones towards improved impact assessment and stronger ongoing monitoring.
Discover the summaries of each session (including related Powerpoint presentations).