This blog is co-written by Abdul Hafiz Koroma, Coordinator at the national WASH Secretariat, Ministry of Public Works, Liberia. The blog post has originally been posted on ircwash.org.
In December 2017, over 60 participants joined a workshop to validate an assessment of the national Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system in Liberia. During the workshop, the participants from national and sub-national level institutions became more and more engaged with Country-Led Monitoring (CLM) and seized the opportunity to influence the national M&E system.
The event by all measures was an eye-opener to many who had consistently framed monitoring through the reductive lenses of routine field visits alone. Monitoring both within central and local government coordination platforms has been subjected to weak regimes of “evaluation” and “reporting”. It appears that M&E has been reduced to isolated field visits that are not part of any programme evaluation. In the absence of “evaluation” reports, the goal of improving programme performance and achieving results remains elusive both at the project implementation level and the policy review and formulation strata. Monitoring should be seen as integral and a precursor to evaluation. It is a step towards project and programme appraisal and not an end in itself.
In 2017, the Ministry of Public Works in Liberia led an assessment to make a snapshot of the current M&E system for rural water and sanitation. The process known as “Country-Led Monitoring” essentially charts a process that enables the Ministry and its partners to discuss and plan for an improved system for routine monitoring of services, thereby pushing better resource planning and coordination to improve WASH services.
The Ministry of Public Works collaborated with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services, and the WASH Secretariat (initiated by all the line ministries) to analyse the national M&E system. Guided by an organising framework the team collects and analyses information on:
- the people, partnerships, and planning practices in the national M&E system,
- the processes of collecting, analysing, and verifying data, and on
- the use of data for decision making by all relevant stakeholders.
Organised by 12 components, this bundled information is shared in a national stakeholder meeting to assess the validity of the findings and complete any missing processes or information. The workshop enabled participants to discuss strengths and weaknesses of the M&E system and to develop recommendations for improvements.
The components provide a holistic view of the national M&E system and empower the Ministry of Public Works to develop and guide a Country-Led Monitoring (CLM) programme in Liberia. Here are three key lessons from the validation workshop:
1. Liberia has not yet benefited from the true character of M&E
The rural water and sanitation M&E system in Liberia is best described as a number of loosely coupled parts rather than a ‘system’. On average, institutions collaborate little, do not share data, and
have neither time nor capacity to discuss how to improve collaborative WASH M&E. This has led to epistemic and social bias that has defined the character of M&E as it is known to most stakeholders. Simply put, the process is essentially one that includes the single activity of a field visit accompanied by the usual benefit of a daily sustenance and allowance and its logistical accoutrements. On top of that, many of the M&E practices performed are initiated by donor requirements and much of the collected data is not used in decision-making processes. As such, Liberia has not experienced and benefited from the potential of routine monitoring in a solid national M&E system.
2. CLM is an instrument to change the M&E practice in Liberia
The CLM negotiates with the structurally rooted M&E practices and advances a new paradigm to define the process. By facilitating a better understanding of the holistic monitoring approach, national actors are able to better appreciate the different components of the CLM process and develop contextual solutions to the monitoring delinquents. From the participants’ perspective, the workshop covered ‘all we ever complained about’. The participants are given the opportunity to speak out and to discuss and recommend improvements with their peers. National and subnational level institutions discuss the current state of the system, including potential synergies and overlap in M&E practices or results. CLM can change the current rural WASH M&E practice, because of the holistic approach to M&E as well as the wide range of involved institutions.
3. CLM changes local practices
The Ministry and other participants in the CLM programme have the ability to put current practices that are deemed ‘the usual’ up for discussion. The discussion between different institutions ensures the ‘why and how‘ of current processes are reviewed, enabling the sector as a whole to break through practices and improve them. The participants discuss how they can change the system they operate in. Doing the same as yesterday can be difficult, but doing something different is even harder. Consequently, changing current normative practices will require adaptability, acceptance, and capacity to roll out the new character of monitoring as well as strong political will in a number of cases.
Early 2018, CLM in Liberia kicks-off with the publication of the validated assessment of the national M&E system. The CLM programme is guided by a roadmap of activities for the next 5 years. The institutions involved in the CLM programme have managed to come together and talk openly about the state of affairs, resulting in a very valuable assessment. At this point, a new challenge emerges for the Ministry of Public Works and their partners, as recommendations are to be put into practice. As the national actors reflect on “all that we basically complained about”, the question is, are they ready to move beyond casual words to sustainable action?