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Inhibitors and enablers of applying M&E related knowledge and skills in the workplace

- Siyabonga Sibiya, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer

Several approaches can be employed to strengthening individual and organisational Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) capacity. Capacity building is one of the leading strategies in developing and strengthening individual and organisational M&E capacity. Various scholars have attempted to study the effectiveness of training interventions with various models being developed including Kirkpatrick’s Evaluation Model, the Phillips Return on Investment Model, Kaufman's Five Levels of Evaluation and Anderson’s Model of Learning Evaluation among other models. A common thread among such models is an interest in establishing the effect training interventions have had at individual and organisational level. Other models among these go further to establish the value of training interventions in relation to return on investment. CLEAR-AA measures the effectiveness and usefulness of its capacity strengthening interventions using Tracer studies. The tracer studies focus on how participants acquire knowledge, skills and apply these to practice.

There is a growing literature that is centred on the view that strengthening individual and organizational M&E capacity may lead to mainstreaming and use of M&E evidence (Cousins et al., 2008; Labin et al., 2012; Milstein & Cotton, 2000; Naccarella et al., 2007; Nielsen et al., 2011; Preskill & Boyle, 2008; Stockdill et al., 2002; Volkov and King, 2007; Morkel and Ramasobama, 2017). Our experience from conducting Evaluation Capacity Building (ECB) has shown that the strengthening of individual and organisational capacity does not necessarily lead to improved M&E practices. There are various factors that may enable or inhibit the application of acquired knowledge and skills in workplaces.

Our tracer studies are showing that application of the knowledge and skills gained is influenced by both internal and external factors. Internal factors are those that are inherent to the training such as the quality of training, use of sound methodologies and relevance of training to the functions of individuals and organisation. A well-designed and quality delivery of a training intervention on its own is not sufficient in enabling application. Application occurs within a specific context, contextual factors equally affect application. Our tracer studies have shown that an enabling organisational environment is critical in facilitating application. Firstly, buy-in from institutional leadership was seen as an enabler for application. Having a supportive leadership in the workplace was found as critical to applying learning from CLEAR-AA trainings. For application to take place, there should be willingness and opportunities for application. Secondly, an enabling organizational culture that values M&E evidence as key to decision-making and fostering learning was seen as key in facilitating application. Thirdly, one’s role and responsibilities in relation to M&E was seen as critical in enabling the application of learning to practice. Participants whose job responsibilities had M&E responsibilities were more likely to apply the learning from the training attended. Lastly, seniority in an organization also played a significant role in application. Participants who assumed more senior management positions were more likely to apply acquired knowledge and skills than those in junior positions. Participants in senior management positions could use their positionality within organizations to influence application. The absence of such enabling factors to application results in detrimental effects. For instance, an institutional leadership that does not value M&E is unlikely to enable the application, thus becoming an inhibitor to application.

In supporting the application of knowledge and skills learnt, it is important to ensure that training interventions are geared towards application or that post training follow up is designed to support application. Diagnostic studies/needs assessments are thus important in determining training needs and to develop interventions that are geared towards addressing apparent knowledge and skills gaps. Secondly, training participant selection should be closely aligned to functionality in enabling application. Organisations should be encouraged to select training participants whose functions involve M&E either at practical level or decision making level. Similarly, organisations should also be encouraged to have a balanced representation of training participants across an organisations hierarchy. This ensures that there are sufficient participants in senior positions to influence application of acquired knowledge and skills. Lastly, having sufficient participants in senior management positions is also key in facilitating an appreciation of the value of M&E thus creating an enabling organisational environment for the application of new learning to practice.

Training interventions may also be supplemented through mechanisms that support application. Facilitating ongoing interaction and follow up mechanisms with training alumni could be useful in supporting application. The follow-up interaction could take many forms including Technical Assistance in supporting individuals and organizations to plan, use, do and manage M&E. Similarly, M&E champions play a significant role in driving demand and supply for M&E. Leveraging on M&E champions could be key in demonstrating the value of M&E as a management tool for decision-making and fostering continuous learning.