3. From M&E to monitoring and learning

3.4 Summary

This chapter started out with the aim of providing practical advice for people working to influence policy to build reflective and evaluative practice into their work to support decision-making and demonstrate progress.

Part 1 introduced nine ‘learning purposes’ – the overarching reasons for undertaking any kind of M&E activity that should drive the design and use of M&E. It proposed 35 individual measures for policy-influencing interventions across six categories (strategy, management, outputs, uptake, outcomes and context), and suggested how these could be used for the learning purposes.

Part 2 discussed how data could be collected both in real time, as the intervention is being carried out, and in retrospect, through detailed studies.

Finally, Part 3 turned to the important task of making sense of those data and putting them to use in decision-making and demonstrating impact.

Since the theme of the chapter has been evaluative practice, it is apt to conclude with a few final pointers on good practice:

  1. Put use at the heart of your monitoring, evaluation and learning to make sure any enquiry will have a positive contribution.
  2. Be grounded in theory from the beginning and test each stage as you go.
  3. Consider competing theories so as not to close down unintended effects.
  4. Embrace failure as just as good an opportunity to learn from as success.
  5. Invest in your monitoring and learning in proportion to the scale of your intervention: sometimes it is appropriate to use simple measures.
  6. Be conscious of rhythms and spaces in which learning occurs: it happens at different paces and different levels.

Finally, there is a traditional African proverb that encapsulates the attitude to take when developing M&E systems for policy influence: ‘we make our path by walking it’. Start by looking at what people are already doing, where data are already collected and the spaces that already exist for sense-making, and then work to strengthen and support those. If existing patterns are ignored, efforts may be wasted because people will always drift towards the familiar and the easy.