Country-led M&E Systems, Part 1: A Step Toward Effective States

I’m currently reading From Poverty to Power by Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam and author of a great development blog sharing the name of the book.  Though the book covers a range of important topics, the central argument is that poverty and inequality are best tackled by active citizens and effective states.  Social movements that empower community members and encourage political participation are critical in the fight against poverty.  When governments are also free of corruption and attentive to the demands of their citizens, these active citizens are capable of realizing groundbreaking, positive change in their communities.

So what does this have to do with evaluation?  Well, one way states can be effective is through the use and promotion of evidence-based policies.  And there is a growing body of literature on country-led monitoring and evaluation systems, which I find it to be a very compelling movement.

What are country-led M&E systems?  These are systems which are set up so that the country (rather than donors or individual organizations) leads the promotion, funding, and implementation of the evaluation process.  This is a topic I’m still studying, so as the first post of a series, I’d like to start by going over some Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  1. Skipping the middle-man.  It seems logical that country-led system would save both time and money.  With the new Sustainable Development Goals officially beginning in 2016, demand is increasing for governments to be held accountable for their own country’s development.  Rather than out-sourcing evaluations of the myriad of programs happening within a country (which requires contracts, paperwork, new hires, new payrolls, etc.), evaluations of programs can be done ‘in-house.’
  2. Getting good info to the right people. Marco Segone of UNICEF more eloquently calls this “merging technical rigour with policy-relevance.”  Once data is collected and evaluations are complete, it only takes a walk down the hall (I mean this only somewhat figuratively) to ensure the research gets to the right people.  What’s more, country-led evaluations ensure that the research that’s being carried out is already in demand — once complete, the evaluation is sure to have some sort of policy influence.

Cons:

  1. Bureaucracy. The sociologist in me won’t let me go any further without putting Weber’s Iron Cage on the table.  That is, an obsession with efficiency and calculation can also result in an almost paralyzing mess of bureaucracy.  The last thing evaluation proponents want is for evaluation to be just another box on a government’s check-list.
  2. Politics.  A double-edged sword, really.  What makes the prospect of country-led evaluations so promising — proximity to policy-makers — simultaneously makes it a risky business.  Statistics can be a strong weapon, and in cases where a government is already determined to enact a policy, it can carry out its own evaluation with just enough sneaky bias to churn out results that look favorable.

So, with the pros and cons in mind, let’s assume a country has the capacity to carry out a rigorous, transparent evaluation of its programs.  By ensuring that evaluation is a key part of the democratic process, a country-led M&E system is a promising method to bridge a gap between active citizens and their government.  What’s more, development goals may be more quickly met in a world where citizens can demand to see evidence of progress, and countries are equipped to deliver.

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