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A spanner in the machine: Ignoring context in country M&E systems

- Dr Takunda Chirau, Evaluation Technical Specialist; Banele Masilela, Emerging Evaluator and Ayabulela Dlakavu, Researcher

Imagine a country M&E system that is not relevant to what it is designed to do? Many African governments mimic other countries’ M&E systems, especially from the Global North and Latin America – Mexico, Colombia and Chile in particular. Indeed, these systems have produced valuable monitoring and evaluation evidence and brought social change. But they are not automatically successful in African countries.

A context-specific country M&E system recognises the structure of the country’s government and its openness to critiques and the use of evidence. It takes into account a country’s resources and capacities. And it caters to the needs of a country’s people.

Yes, countries can learn from each other. It is naïve to discount peer-to-peer learning. Sharing lessons and experiences allows political and senior administrative people to find out what works and what does not. But ignoring each country’s unique context will put a spanner in the M&E machine. Let’s start thinking about how context influences the success and failure of a country M&E system, comprehensively and systematically.

I believe in taking a systems approach to developing and strengthening country M&E systems. Systems are dynamic and complex. Understanding the complexity helps to give even the simplest element its importance in a system. Without this, our M&E systems will not be contextually responsive.

These are our thoughts? What are yours?

For more information read Indran Naidoo’s Monitoring and Evaluation in South Africa: Many Purposes, Multiple Systems for insights into understanding the need for peer-to-peer learning, what works and what doesn't.

Professor Ian Goldman’s The Emergence of Government Evaluation Systems in Africa: The Case of Benin, Uganda and South Africa provides an understanding into how context influences the development and functionality of national evaluation systems.