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Embedding M&E systems within established political and governance systems in Anglophone Africa

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

Imagine a scenario where monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is perceived as part and parcel of governance systems. Such that every government ministry or department has a dedicated M&E unit, adequately staffed and has adequate resources to execute its functions. Imagine every sector having clear and relevant indicators to measure the progress of its programmes and projects. Imagine a scenario where all government programmes have periodic evaluations to determine whether they are achieving the intended outcomes and/or impacts for which they are designed. Are all these scenarios achievable, or are they merely a utopia for the Anglophone Africa countries?

The authors believe, unequivocally, that M&E systems play a significant role in the day to day government work. This is only possible if these systems are tailored to the pre-existing governance and political systems across Anglophone Africa. Across Anglophone Africa, irrespective of history, the prevailing governance and bureaucratic systems were inherited from the past colonial systems. What do we mean by tailoring M&E systems to the existing political and governance system? First, we mean that M&E systems should be designed with the ideological and political context in mind so that the system enables the tracking of progress made, and enhance informed decision-making.  Whilst Western thought and international development institutions dominate M&E scholarship and practice, there is a need to contextualize the design of M&E systems and align it to the prevailing governance and political system. In this way, the proposed M&E systems have a chance of being received with open arms, rather than be regarded as going off on a tangent with the local ideology and political system. Attacking established ideological beliefs (which is the equivalent of religious beliefs in politics and government) is a sure way of killing proposed M&E systems before they are even established.

A second way of ensuring the survival of M&E systems is to make sure that the aims of the M&E systems are adequately explained to public servants so that misconceptions are eliminated from the start. This ensures that the M&E system is not misused for nefarious purposes and to retain its primary objective as mentioned above. A third way of ensuring the survival and sustainability of M&E systems is to upskill public servants on monitoring and evaluation, to ensure that they have an understanding of key concepts of the M&E trade, and how to carry out M&E functions. This leads to ownership of the M&E system, as well as support for the M&E system from political and administrative leaders. This then bodes well for the survival and sustainability of M&E systems.

Lastly, monitoring and evaluation have to be entrenched in all stages of the policy-cycle: agenda-setting; policy formulation; policy implementation; and policy review. M&E play a significant role in all these stages. Agenda setting requires evidence to identify issues that need urgent intervention in society. Likewise, policy formulation requires extensive research and evidence as to which solutions can solve an issue(s). This includes empirical research into policies that have worked in other countries or contexts. Again, M&E retains its importance in the policy implementation stage, whereby monitoring data is needed to track whether the policy is unfolding as per the planned timelines and work plan and whether resources are expended appropriately and leading to planned outputs.

These are our considered suggestions on how to design relevant, effective and impactful M&E systems. At CLEAR-AA, we are on a perpetual quest to integrate M&E systems into the governance systems of Anglophone Africa. Are we designing relevant M&E systems? Can you join the ongoing conversation on how to design M&E systems? Sound off on our social media platforms!