3 suggestions from M&E to funders
Open Space was the technique used for most of the KM4dev 2013 meeting in Seattle, Washington. “Open Space is about ‘holding the space and kicking off the conversation and gathering notes/ideas’ rather than presenting to a topic…”, said the invitation to the event. This gave me the opportunity to participate in several of these “spaces” revolving around M&E practice- which seems to have become an unavoidable topic for organizations, even for those people traditionally dealing mostly with knowledge management (KM).
If well mainstreamed and applied, monitoring and evaluative culture and practices, are, after all, an organization’s gateway to learning and then adapting. As the realization of this becomes more and more widespread, R4D is looking to KM practitioners to help answer some key questions: what are the best ways to use KM true and tested methodologies to harvest and document what a research and/or development organization learns? How does improving internal communication speed up the process of adaptive management? How can KM help perpetuate and strengthen an evaluative culture?
In all the KM4Dev2013 very dynamic conversations, we tended to move towards discussing systematic processes to mainstream M&E and connect it to KM in their organizations. We were all looking for suggestions, experiences and lessons learnt from peers. But what we came up with can better be described as recommendations to a key group, central to the issue: funders (funding partners, donors). What is the “added-value” proposition we can make to our donors, and how can we present it, to make the case for more and better targeted investment in M&E mainstreaming? The main suggestions (by no means comprehensive, but certainly interesting to discuss) are described here: this is my amalgam of listening in in various groups.
- Start at the beginning: invest in realistic, theory-of-change-based proposals and design, base-lining and planning that integrates monitoring and KM activities. Carrying out this planning with a broad range of stakeholders makes it more expensive, yes- but making the process participatory ensures demand- driven results, thus a certain measure of adoption, proper use and scaling out and up. Invest on the time to set this up conscientiously- a push for Year Zero! The return on investment? This type of planning process helps projects contextualize their outputs, increase their relevance, and improve their targeting.
- The flexibility story, the change story… can only be captured with sense- making monitoring and systematization. While our theory of change can, well, change as we move along, we must push for metrics that remain constant, allowing us to compare, test and learn. Invest in appreciative- inquiry type exercises: what is working? What are the positive things an organization already does? How can they be replicated? How are we adapting to our changing circumstances? The return on investment here is not so much in the way we improve the current project, but rather in the long- term knowledge that we acquire, making all of us better partners for next time around. As we do enough of this, we will be able to apply our lessons learnt in future planning, and create more true organization-donor-stakeholder partnerships.
- Role of champions and partners… all the knowledge we need to make any development endeavor work is not contained in any single organization. We need those people who are willing to connect us with outside partners present and past- and who are creative enough to go beyond organizational boundaries, and to look for knowledge where knowledge may be found. So… push for R4D organizations to give recognition to this type of work. What are the incentives that interest these boundary- spanners? Some of them may be very simple and, for once, not too expensive, but the process of mainstreaming this as a quality standard into organizations needs resources… and this investment will also surely result in better organization-donor-stakeholder partnerships.
We really need to get more assertive in presenting requests to donors, and better at explaining why some processes, which may sound like a bit of overkill today, ensure that donor’s resources are made the most of. What would you say to a donor if they came up and asked what you want for your project?