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How can M&E and policy work together effectively?

Often, M&E Systems for large organisations, for example ministerial departments, can struggle to ‘touch the ground’ in terms of getting any meaningful information from the reality in the field. Results Based Management approaches and systems based on national policy have positives and negatives. The positives of national RBM systems is the logical coherence and the coordination of action they give. The negative is that they can become too centralised with all the well documented problems this has entailed historically.  This relates to the old policy debates on Rationality vs. Incrementalism - is it possible to fully rationalise the ideal policy from the top or do you have to experiment and feel your way through?[1]

The question is, can we say that the policy is ideal and for the benefit of citizens - a typical example might be a policy aimed at GDP growth rather than improving the lives of the poorest citizens. An intriguing alternative might be a bottom-up system where the needs of the poorest in each area are assessed in participatory ways and projects formulated within programmes according to guiding policy principles by central government. Such projects should be monitored from below for their own learning process and adaptive management.[2]

I have partial experience of this from two projects. One was a demand-led planning process based on PRA analysis at sub-district level, rationalised at district level, funded partly by guaranteed project funds but also inviting donor support for evidence-based bottom-up plans. Another was a provincial programme in the poorest and weakest province where competitive planning was thrown open to the public according to policy principles (sustainable growth with equity and involving private, government and voluntary sectors). This was supported by workshops for each technical sector explaining the national policy principles and inviting proposals. Planners became appraisers and were overwhelmed by fundable projects.[3]

RBM can be 'top heavy' as opposed to having 'light' policy principles guiding programmes and projects below.  It would be convenient if there was a ‘one size fits all’ model, but we have to adjust systems to the context by working as much as possible with multiple stakeholders at different levels, to construct a system that not only helps us learn how to do things better, but ultimately leads to improvements where they are needed the most.

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[1] Rondinelli, D.A. 1993 ‘Development Projects as Policy Experiments: An Adaptive Approach to Development Administration’ Routledge 2nd Ed

[2] Bond R and Hulme D 1999 ‘Process Approaches to Development: Theory and Sri Lankan Practice’, World Development Vol 27, No 8 pp. 1339-1358

[2] Archibald, T., Sharrock, G., Buckley, J., & Young, S. (2018). Every practitioner a “knowledge

worker”: Promoting evaluative thinking to enhance learning and adaptive management in

international development. In A. T. Vo & T. Archibald (Eds.), Evaluative Thinking. New

Directions for Evaluation158, 73–91.

[3] Bond R. 2003 'Opening Pandora's Box: Regional Action on a Concept of Sustainable Growth with Equity' in D. Potts et.al. Eds. Development Planning and Poverty Reduction, Palgrave MacMillan

by Richard Bond

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