A Case for Greater Investments in M&E Capacity for Africa

Weak monitoring and evaluation (M&E) capacity in Africa is a persistent challenge that has faced development agencies, foundations, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations alike, as they seek to monitor and evaluate their programs and projects.  M&E capacity challenges in Africa are driven by many factors, including: 1) insufficient numbers of trained and experienced African M&E experts; and 2) an existing system in which the users of evaluation services mostly source experts from outside the Africa continent.

A growing recognition exists in the M&E field throughout Africa and globally that more needs to be done to address the lack of sufficient African evaluation experts, both in terms of increasing numbers as well as the raising the skills and experience levels of individual experts. However, this recognition is not reflected in the level of commitment and resources that have been invested in M&E capacity building in Africa. The low level of investment in building Africa’s M&E capacity is not surprising given that the main users of M&E services in Africa, development agencies, foundations and other donors, continue to source M&E experts from the Global North. Large international M&E firms based in the US and Europe remain primary practitioners of evaluation in Africa. Such firms have established relationships with development agencies and foundations.

Promoters of expanding African M&E capacity do not necessarily seek to replace international M&E firms, rather they believe that the field of evaluation would be enriched by having local evaluators’ voices and perspectives in the evaluation practice. Others go even further to argue that there is much that African cultures and contexts can offer the evaluation field, and African evaluators are better positioned to localize/contextualize evaluation practice than outsiders. Therefore, having more trained and qualified African evaluators is not just “nice to have”, but is essential for ensuring that what gets evaluated, how existing methodologies are applied to the African context, and how findings are interpreted. Potential benefits to development agencies and foundations of having more African evaluation experts engaged in evaluation practice would include: 1) evaluations designs and application of evaluation methodologies that are culturally and contextually relevant; 2) evaluators that can gain entrée, have access and credibility to local populations (e.g., smallholder farmers) that would enhance their ability to collect better data from respondents; and 3) interpretation of evaluation findings and the communication of results to local users (e.g., policy makers) in a manner that is responsive the circumstances on the ground.

While there are programs and projects in place to build M&E capacity in Africa, they are insufficient: current evaluation capacity building in Africa lacks coordination and complementarity. Workshops and seminars tend to be one-off efforts and are insufficiently connected with hands-on practicum to ground the evaluation theory with practice. Implementers of programs, users of evaluation results, and evaluation trainers are not working together to ensure that the competencies that are being built are the most relevant and applicable to existing gaps. There are significant opportunity costs of the lack of coordination. Natural synergies across M&E capacity building efforts are also not being appropriately leveraged. Training programs lack of common standards for what an African M&E expert should be. Consequently, African M&E experts vary widely in their ability to practice evaluation effectively. The complaint from donor agencies and foundations that they can’t find qualified African evaluators is partly true, because the trained and experienced African M&E experts tend to be overbooked and overworked. Additionally, emerging M&E experts have not had sufficient mentorship and tutelage to ground their evaluation theory in real-world application to be credible as independent practitioners.

What can be done to address M&E capacity building challenges in Africa? 

First, there needs to be increased investment in evaluation capacity building by those who demand and use evaluations (i.e., governments, donor agencies, foundations). This requires greater advocacy and promotion of evaluation and the need for investing in African evaluation capacity building.  Such advocacy needs to be deliberate, sustained, and globally focused. This requires leadership that is credible in the technical aspects of evaluation, as well as knowledgeable about the needs, challenges, and context of those who demand and use evaluation results.

Second, existing evaluation capacity building programs and projects need to better be coordinated and synergized to maximize and their effectiveness. This means ensuring consistency and shared standards amongst the programs. It also means ensuring the workshops, courses, and seminars across programs and projects are responsive to the needs and the gaps that exist among African evaluators. Coordination will ensure that capacity building efforts are complementary, rather than duplicative.

Third, support and guidance need to be provided to the evaluation associations (e.g., the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA), and the regional associations) so that they are better equipped, resourced, and networked to mobilize, coordinate, and enable the African evaluation community to be visible. They need to be capacitated to effectively engage in evaluation advocacy, standard setting, and in the provision of outlets for evaluation scholarship (i.e., planning conferences, publishing journals and other evaluation products for dissemination).