Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) has so far rather seemed like an add on to the Africa RISING program.
Perhaps this was due to its being devolved to another organization – the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) – rather than to the institutes leading the three regional projects (the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture – IITA] in West Africa as well as in East and Southern Africa, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in the Ethiopian Highlands. Or perhaps it was because there was no M&E specialist working with the project in the regions until very recently; or because Washington-based economists and Africa-based agronomists don’t always talk the same language.
At any rate, the integration of M&E in the program was sub-optimal. Partly to correct this, in November 2013, a second Africa RISING M&E meeting was organised in Addis Ababa. It was a definite step forward to put M&E at the heart of Africa RISING, and to let agronomists and economists work hand in hand.
This workshop was organized jointly with the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), in which IFPRI is also a key organization. The rationale for the joint meeting was to learn from each other’s design and experience in monitoring complex farming systems and to identify useful approaches, tools, indicators and other ideas to turn M&E into a powerful engine for adaptive management, thus an integral part of the program rather than a set of activities only meant to scrutinize the work of all project teams.
Throughout the first two days (the third day being specifically for the Africa RISING team), the 40 or so participants explored various topics:
- Using M&E for learning;
- Discovering various monitoring tools – web-based or not;
- Keeping track of activities and outputs through proper data and information management;
- Characterizing landscapes, communities and households;
- Evaluating and forecasting technologies, practices and policies – through randomized control trials and other methods (see the presentation below).
They generated some major recommendations documented on the event page of the program workspace.
On the final day, the Africa RISING team looked at the previous work to identify follow-up points and practical recommendations:
- Improving data and information management to make sure that everything is properly tracked and organized by developing a proper data management strategy, organizing a data management section on the program workspace and making information about project staff more easily accessible (to find expertise more easily);
- Developing custom indicators on the basis of indicators from the Vital Signs system for ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes, notably around farm system intensification, sustainability, gender/equity and nutrition.
- Integrating M&E in project management through developing a tool that helps project teams and coordinators gather useful data to take decisions;
- Developing a clear plan with web-based M&E tools and some tutorial or capacity development activities to get the M&E team and regional teams up to speed with these tools.
Finally, the meeting was a good opportunity to let the M&E specialists across the regions share their experiences on baseline data collection and their working relationship with the local teams.