We all had to change our ways of working and learning during the pandemic and it was both a challenge and an opportunity. Utilising our experience at developing online trainings, the team at IMA assisted the with the conversion and revision of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Independent Evaluation Department's (IED) Project Evaluation course from face to face to online. The content evolved to be suitable for distance learning on project evaluation.  Changes involved revising and developing PowerPoints for webinars and self-study modules; reworking the course structure; objectives; participant learning journey; and adding learning process elements throughout. 

Talking to the world. Online learning and webinars.

The training approach was revised to contain live interactive webinar sessions and materials to make the learning experience engaging, and with development of new material for self-study and group work. Two new video series were created from resources and footage provided by IED, both covering key evaluation messages and ‘Eval-versations’ based on interviews with key staff on more in-depth evaluation-related topics.   

This project paralleled the Training of Trainers for IED, supporting the design and delivery of an online training course for staff who will be delivering long-term internal training. 

Find out more about our Consultancy Services, Tailored Training, MEAL Open Course, and Training of Trainers.

Visit ADB's website to find out more about them.

IMA were invited to facilitate and support the Porticus team in developing their Theory of Change (ToC) and MEL framework following a successful online Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) training in Kenya with Porticus Africa. With all the changes happening around the world due to the pandemic, our consultancy work had to change, opening up a new area for online and remote working.

As part of the collaboration, we facilitated the development of an animated video and the initiation of an MEL framework, as well as reviewing Porticus program documents using the current Africa strategy. Staff were encouraged to draw how they perceived the current MEL system to start this process.  The drawings were collated, with shared thoughts identified and differences highlighted, to develop a list of starter questions initiating the discussion in a creative way.

We hope that our partnership with Porticus Africa has supported the development of their ToC and MEL frameworks, to enable long term benefits of their work responding to complex social challenges in Africa.

Graphic drawing representing a Theory of Change
An example of the structure of a Theory of Change diagram

"We work to create a sustainable future where justice and human dignity flourish. Lasting solutions aren't achieved quickly or lightly, but we know if we keep striving together, we can make this a reality."

Porticus website

Find out more about Porticus on their website. www.porticus.com

If you would like to find out more about developing a Theory of Change, you can read about our Theory of Change in Practice training course or our Consultancy services.

You can watch Mansoor's interview here or listen to it here.

The importance of learning, how we learn, and evolving the ways people learn, is undeniably important to Mansoor. His love of learning could not have resonated more from our conversation this week. He is passionate about educating people and enabling them to learn in supportive and nurturing ways, and wants to encourage a culture of learning from mistakes, a culture which can sometimes be overwhelmed by a desire for perfection, which can not only prevent real thinking and change, but can limit innovation. Throughout his life, Mansoor has discovered these ways of learning and how he can use them in his teaching and training; teaching the values of learning from your mistakes, being able to “see things critically, how these things can be improved…that’s where the learning comes from…you need to come out of the context and think…how can we improve, what is best, what mistakes are we doing and so those are the things which I found very exciting about learning and I still adopt and use those values”. Mansoor has drawn inspiration from different parts of his life and interests, and his drive to continue learning and teaching is something we are grateful to benefit from at IMA.  

Mansoor Ali in his allotment

So...who is Mansoor Ali? 

After exchanging introductions and asking Mansoor, the age-old question we all dread being asked at job interviews ‘So…tell me about yourself…’, Mansoor replies simply “I would describe myself as a learner”. This is far better than the usual scripted answers I have been known to use and gets to the heart of who Mansoor is instantly. He is, as he describes, a learner, someone who has dedicated his life to learning about people, places, ideas, and how we can all make the world a better place, by, you guessed it…learning from each other. Having worked in the international development field for more than 35 years and finding his feet in what he loves to do, he has a wealth of experience and professes that despite all this knowledge, “[he’s] always learning- I am always enjoying my work”, with his focus on global development. 

What is Mansoor doing now? 

I was interested to know where Mansoor sees himself in his life now. He is full of passion for learning and teaching, so my interest in what he is doing now, and hopes to continue doing grew throughout our conversation. Mansoor’s answer though, will surprise you.  

Mansoor describes himself as a “half allotment person”. Intriguing, I know, I wanted to know more too. His love of gardening and allotments started during his first work in Karachi: “one of the components was kitchen gardening” and “[his] father was a very keen gardener”. Now, he is beginning the next stage of his life as “semi-retired but still very active in the professional world”, and currently his passions are in “starting [his] allotment”. He also feels he is at the point in his life where he would like to do more mentoring, training and teaching so he can “share with young professionals what [he] learned in 35 years” and “what mistakes [he has] made”, he feels young people have “strengths and abilities they can bring to the table…like digital connectivity, use of multimedia” and “their ability to think and analyse is excellent” so part of his goal is “to work more and more with young professionals and enable them to deliver good international development in coming years”.  

Currently, Mansoor is working on projects in 6 countries and in the past years, has travelled to 20 countries, including in 4 emergency contexts. His work is also based on “more or less developing international programs for a number of international donors, bilateral donors”, amongst other work in which Mansoor will “train and teach in various places”. He speaks fondly of his work as a facilitator in Monitoring and Evaluation with IMA, a working relationship we are equally fond of. Mansoor is a wonderful consultant within our network of enthusiastic and experienced consultants, and we are grateful to have him on board!  

On the “tactical side” of his work, Mansoor focuses “more on waste and sanitation” with one of the things he expresses he wants to “see this world adopting and changing is to generate less and less waste and we recycle more”, as “that can create massive benefits to the poor…because in many countries poor people are the main recyclers…it’s not the government”. Waste management and sanitation, Mansoor says are “all [his] passion and that’s what [he] enjoys at the moment”. 

I could not agree more with the direction Mansoor hopes the world will go in reducing waste and improving waste management so that people’s lives, and the environment around the world are made easier. It is a big topic, that needs extensive research and implementation and I hope to see the future Mansoor paints for us. I continue expressing my agreement with Mansoor, interested to know more about his experience working with people across the world and in particular, with people and communities within the waste management sector.  

Mansoor’s experiences in this area are extensive and not without stories. He finished his PhD on the subject of waste management in 1996 in the UK, completing his research in between work on “building the systems in low-income countries on [their] existing strengths”, involving using “the local strengths to develop training courses and capacities”. He goes on to explain…”in waste management”, it is the “application” that is key to ensuring the sustainability of a system, he continues…"in many countries, we have excellent recycling systems at the grassroots level. In many countries, women like my mother, my mother-in-law, my grandmother, they all used to separate waste…there was no environmental awareness, but they separated it because they see [waste] as a resource…so resource concession consciousness is there in many cultures”. Originally from Karachi, Mansoor “saw that happening” growing up and in observing the realities of waste management at a small scale, started him on the journey to learning about waste management at a PhD level. He noticed that those sorting waste were starting to sell waste, eventually creating “small-scale…private sector recycling [of] all types of waste and making an income from that”. He says “I started observing those realities 37/38 years ago and that was the topic of my PhD”. He feels strongly that these are the sort of strengths that need to be recognised in development. There are systems already in place in many communities, and using those systems is such a valuable way integrating local people in development initiatives brought about by agencies or governments. Seeing this kind of reality in development, “gave [Mansoor] an energy but also a possibility to work on that so [he] wrote more than 50 articles, textbooks, lectured at hundreds of places” and he still strongly believes that “you can improve your systems in your countries, in your cities, if you base on the existing stance, it will go beyond the projects…it will sustain, it will deliver the benefits”, there is not such a need for “spending some amount of money on machines and infrastructure and all that, because it’s all there, you just need to create a space for them, you need to accept those systems, you need to improve those systems…”.  

Wise and experienced words from Mansoor, which makes me think of the phrase ‘if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it’. Often there are existing systems and ways of working within communities, in this case within the waste management sector, and using these systems and developing them, but not changing the essence of them, could be significant for collaboration and relationship building with communities, sustainable development, and easier integration of new ideas.  

As well as his work in waste management, Mansoor has focused a lot on “hardcore emergencies”, working on “water sanitation projects”, and due to his experience, he is “used by a number of international organisations to develop programs for them”. Integral to his work remains the “philosophy” of “community involvement”, values he feels he shares with IMA.  

I was interested to know more about the specific projects Mansoor has worked on in the past, in particular, his work involved in the WASH programme. He has such a passion for what he does in his work that I just felt there had to be a drive behind it. When he was studying in his third year of engineering, he realised that “although he enjoyed teaching”, he “wanted to go out of the classroom and see what was happening in the real world”. It was when a guest lecturer needed volunteers to help on the project, and Mansoor wanted some extra pocket money, that he became “exposed [to] and worked with some of the top developing professionals in the world in that project” and guided by some of the big names in development. It was this point that was “the start of [his] work in sanitation projects and that project was very much again about building on the capabilities and strengths of people.”  

It was during his work as a head of monitoring and evaluation, that he learnt the value of ‘learning from failures’. Learning about this concept through his work was an “inspiring” and “deep experience”. He feels that “many organisations are…very careful about failures and there is a misconception that if we declare our weaknesses and failure, people will not pay us grants…which I found totally incorrect”. In Mansoor’s experience, “most of the professionals like to see what’s working and what’s not working”. He discovered that “the key was learning…organisational learning, learning systems, developing failures…how learning happened, from head office, to the field office, to the grassroots in the partners, [then] how we learn from communities…[and] capture learning.”  

All of these concepts and ideas are so important to accepting imperfections and improving, and ideas Mansoor used in his career as a lecturer for 8/9 years in the UK. Using these concepts, he developed "techniques of teaching which were very much based on participation of students…discussions and online communications…debates on key topics” that enabled learning to happen in an “active manner”. 

He likened this open and participatory style of learning to our training at IMA, saying he “found very similar DNA in the IMA training”, a “structure” to the learning, “but then [we] act more as a facilitator and create a safer, respectful space for trainees where they can come…build on their strengths”. Mansoor also expresses how he likes the variety of experience levels we have on our courses, with some people having “10 years experiences but some people [are] just starting monitoring and evaluation”, so he feels strongly, that in training, “if you don’t create a safer space and respectful space for everybody [and] encourage them to ask questions” they will not learn in the most nurturing environment, an approach to teaching and training that Mansoor feels he “found in IMA which overlapped with [his] approach to teaching and training”.  

We love having Mansoor as one of our course facilitators at IMA, bringing his experiences and joyful personality to his teaching and role as a facilitator. It seems our matching values were important to Mansoor, his “passion [and] interest overlapped” and that his values are “more or less values for [our] training and research”. The knowledge of methods and techniques involved with training and developing projects that Mansoor brings to his role is wonderful to see and has and will benefit many of our participants, so we are very grateful to have him on board. He spoke about how he came into contact with IMA and found common values that made him a perfect fit. He also felt IMA met his same values for learning and teaching, saying “there’s something special about IMA”, with “focus on key outputs but also creating a learning experience” and a “learning journey, create a setting in which everybody can learn…and everybody feels respectful”. 

So, I'm sure you've been wondering, why did Mansoor become a consultant? 

After his career and work in international development and as a lecturer, Mansoor wanted to have “a bit more freedom, [he] wanted to start [his] half allotment [and] wanted a bit more flexibility”. He also felt that in some organisations the shift in focus to “more financially driven” did not relate to his values , so he decided to “move [and] start [his] own work 3 years ago” where he started to find “interesting” and “relevant projects which [he] enjoyed”. He now can work at his own pace as suits him and “take the work which [he] can do with good quality”. He now focuses on his “happiness, wellbeing of [his] own, relationships with [his] friends and families”, which I think is something we would all love to work towards in our lives.  

What does Mansoor think the future holds for international development? 

Mansoor already paints such an optimistic view of teaching and training and how we can improve methods for younger generations, speaking of his work as a lecturer with students. In answering this question, Mansoor reflects on his experiences, “things have changed [since] I started 35 years ago…and one major change in my opinion is the local capacity – the national experts are very good. I’m working at the moment in...countries and most of the national experts they know much more than the international experts like myself, and they’re very, very good. So, that capacity has evolved, the citizens, the beneficiaries, they ask for more details, they understand more, they ask for more accountability, so in my opinion, those days are over when you’re going and building a set of infrastructure for a community, training them, and then walking back”. He feels in the sustainable development sector, less so for crisis intervention, this change is happening. When Mansoor started on a project in India, he found “there was a very common tradition that people will visit a very high income country, they will visit some infrastructure services…they see something and they say…oh we want to copy that in our own countries, without much thinking about the history of that development, without much thinking about the context of that development and the systems which are in place for that”…"so we need to work with the reality, we need to work with the opportunity, and I feel that is the future for international development, we all have our role, there are many problems, there are many possibilities, but…I always feel we can work together and working together in partnership with the local expert is something which I feel was missing, still not fully accepted, but that is the future of international development”.  

I agreed with Mansoor, collaboration and working together to support this global effort to create positive change around the world is vital for development and change to happen around the world. We can work together and follow in one another’s footsteps, and the more we can all learn and share knowledge, the more we will come to understand what different people need.  

While discussing hopes for the future of international development, I wondered what Mansoor’s hopes within his own life were. Turns out it has a lot more to do with gardening! It seems the state of Mansoor’s allotment speaks of where he is in his own life, he says “I am very hopeful, that when I will have full allotments...that means I will be fully retired, and growing my own food or trying to grow my own, or slowly stop working”. Whilst we hope we still can keep working with Mansoor, and he doesn’t get his full allotment quite yet, he explains one of the reasons he will be glad of that time, not just for the home-grown vegetables, is that he “will be replaced by more promising, more skilful and more clever people, that is a big hope and I really, I’m working on it and I see IMA training partly gives me that opportunity to work with young professionals”. What a wonderful and optimistic outlook on how Mansoor hopes the future will be for international development, and in his own life.  

We concluded our wonderful conversation with Mansoor describing the vegetables he grows in his allotment, assuring me that “coriander is very easy to grow, mint is very easy to grow, spinach is quite okay” (not sure he’d agree if he saw my gardening abilities), and astounding me by the volume of tomatoes and potatoes he has grown.  

Well, if I haven’t been inspired to improve my gardening abilities (a lot of work needed for me there), then I have been truly inspired by Mansoor to learn new things in life in any way I can. Mansoor is an advocate for nurturing teaching methods and providing a safe and motivating environment to learn from one another, share ideas and encourage innovation and forward thinking.  

So, I would like to say a big thank you to Mansoor Ali for agreeing to talk to me about his life, achievements, ambitions, and thoughts on international development. I certainly have learnt a lot, and I hope you all have too!  

We are grateful to have Mansoor as one our consultants and course facilitators at IMA, and we look forward to continuing our work with him in the future.  

If you are a consultant passionate about working with people and would like to build new relationships, maybe you would also be a good match for IMA!  

If you would be interested in working with us, get in touch by emailing post@imainternational.com.  

I hope you enjoyed reading and look out for more conversations with our consultants!  

Watch Mansoor's interview here or listen to it here.

by Richard Bond, Senior Consultant, IMA International

I have been working with IMA international on development of a new online course, so what is it about?  Well, it is about a unique system and set of tools which has emerged from my 40 years of developing learning systems in large, complex projects many of which followed a learning process. It’s Less about frameworks, indicators and terminal evaluations; more about monitoring internally to learn and change during the investment period. A different sort of animal.

So, why might you want to learn about establishing a genuine learning process system in your large and complex project? Well, four reasons;

Firstly, conventional M&E tends to be ritualised and essentially for accountability purposes to central government or donors. Fair enough, they do provide the funds for investment, but does it get the best results? For that there must be priority for learning over accountability.

​Secondly, the policy learning needs of government and donors are poorly met by summative ‘snapshot’ evaluations. Even if the findings are robust – a big ‘IF’ – then the chances of any future project having the same context and following the same process that might benefit from the lessons are remote. Learning should be applied during existing investments.

Thirdly, existing framework-based M&E systems are not managerially relevant for project information needs, especially at the operational level.

And finally, unless your assumed theory is absolutely rock-solid, an unlikely scenario in complex, diverse, resource and information-poor environments, where change in human behaviour is needed; then you will have to learn and change as you go along.

OK, but in what ways would it be different from a conventional M&E system?

Perhaps the most radical difference would be that it would be designed and operated from the field level not the centre. The centre would concentrate on training support and reflection. 

The monitoring is highly analytical and using combined qualitative and quantitative systems provides information on all stages of emerging results for multiple management levels in the organisation, all done in real-time. This allows true process monitoring and when supported by targeted mini-reviews explains weaknesses for high-level reflection. The whole is based on a modified ‘Action-Learning’ cycle.

That is a tall order, so what methods enable such a system?

There are five innovative tool sets; ‘Cognitive Mapping’ taps into the real client field situation and these results help formulate a non-linear ‘Theory of Change’ where all hypotheses are made explicit. During implementation, field operatives monitor outputs in a managerially relevant way using a system called ‘ATOM’ that not only keeps an eye on the big picture of implementation but provides diagnosis of weaknesses. There are also a few key techniques, called WEDEX and CAJUS for periodic checks on the emergence of outcomes and impact, also capable of disaggregation, that help target internally driven mini-reviews when failure of hypothesis is suspected. These in turn feed back into the reflective Theory of Change model to give evidence-based adjustment.

All these methods have been used in field situations over the last 40 years, are done by existing field staff, can be developed on conventional computer systems by local staff and function as a coherent real-time system. 

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.

Watch this video to find out about our online Monitoring and Evaluation for Results course.

[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

“A comprehensive training covering the most important fundamentals of M&E. Very well-structured too,” latest M&E f Results course participant.

This July, we once again held our summer Monitoring and Evaluation for Results course on the Brighton seafront. 16 participants came together to learn about current and widely-used M&E approaches, and practice M&E methods. Like many of IMA’s open courses, the multiple diversity is what strikes you most. 11 nationalities were represented: Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Tajikistan, South Korea, US and UK. The broad spectrum of M&E experience spanned from minimal M&E exposure to decades of experience. Participants came from different institutional bodies: government, private sector, INGOs and donor agencies. Their current work focus areas include malaria, nutrition, narcotics and law enforcement, banking, peace-building and multi-sectoral programmes, both at project/community and strategic/regional levels. We feel this diversity is a rich environment for learning, sharing, challenging each other’s mind-sets and re-thinking patterns and behaviour. Our training design and facilitation approach builds on this richness as we worked with participants’ live projects as case studies; ran peer support sessions; and matched demand for input on certain topics with offers of experience from those who wanted to share.

Participants were particularly keen to learn about Evaluations: how to choose methods and approaches; how to commission and manage evaluations; how best to use evaluation findings. Everyone really appreciated the hands-on data gathering fieldwork with a young women’s group supported by the TDC. In groups, they then used the data to work through a theory of change process and develop theories of change for TDC’s work with young women in Brighton. The practical data gathering exercise is always one of the highlights of our 10-day course. The focus on purposive adult learning and application of new skills is another of our key concerns. Participants clarified their learning objectives at the start, and identified their organisational drivers, referring to these as the course progressed. Daily journaling and reflection in different formats helped to embed individual learning and support participants in thinking through actual application of concepts and methods learned.

 “The programme was a very rewarding experience; the faculty and wealth of resources was incredible - latest M&E f Results course participant.

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