USAID/Nepal: Making Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) even more collaborative and effective
This post was written by Lesley Perlman (M&E Specialist, USAID/BFS) and Maneka Gurung (M&E Officer, USAID/Nepal).
How can USAID Missions best use Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) to improve development results and advance USG objectives? In collaboration with USAID’s Bureau for Food Security (BFS), USAID/Nepal’s Social, Environmental, and Economic Development (SEED) Office is developing new approaches for using rigorous evidence and learning to improve its program management and generate better results. SEED’s approach has proven informative for USAID/Nepal as a whole, and we hope it will be of interest to other USAID Missions and partners as well.
Two of the main approaches USAID/Nepal is using to help its partners adapt their programming to best match changing conditions and new evidence are pause and reflect workshops and evaluation-rooted recommendation workshops. These learning events help to build and strengthen relationships between and among partners and USAID, and most importantly can generate data-driven innovations in program implementation, improved accountability, and better program integration to improve USAID’s impact.
SEED recently worked with the Feed the Future Nepal flagship activity, Knowledge-Based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture in Nepal, KISAN II, to organize a Pause and Reflect Workshop for partners, project staff, USAID, and stakeholders. Pause and Reflect sessions help us dig into the theory of change, review activity progress, understand programming against assumptions in contributing to inclusiveness, resilience, and evidence, and pivot an activity based on what we are seeing and learning. During this workshop, we assessed the constraints and opportunities of the horticulture, maize, rice, and goat value chains and discussed how to better reach outcomes through deeper explorations of KISAN II’s theory of change. As a result of the workshop, KISAN II adjusted its approaches for its organizational strengthening and partnership models and is further exploring issues of gender equity and social inclusion by integrating disaggregated analysis around specific market constraints.
A Recommendations Workshop (1), covering the mid-term evaluation for the Feed the Future Nepal Seeds and Fertilizer (NSAF) project, brought together implementing partners, USAID staff, and the evaluation team with the objective of getting stakeholders in the same room to ground-truth conclusions and recommendations. In addition to summarizing findings, the active dialogue focused on making the recommendations more applicable, useful, and relevant, which has the potential to increase the utility of this mid-term performance evaluation. Key findings from the mid-term evaluation centered on the promotion of seeds and fertilizer systems and technologies that hold the greatest potential to improve farmer productivity and for scaling; and on improving gender and social inclusion (GESI). As a result of the active discussion at the recommendation workshop, in the remaining two years, NSAF will focus its future trials and demonstrations on the development of more promising varieties such as the yellow hybrid maize varieties and Polymer Coated Urea (PCA), and briquette and split application fertilizer technologies to improve crop productivity. NSAF will also accelerate its support to foster a more conducive Fertilizer Policy that encourages private investment. Additionally, NSAF will also review its GESI Action Plan activities, indicators, mechanisms/tools, responsibilities, and targets.
SEED hosts an M&E Community of Practice with Feed the Future and Food for Peace implementing partners, including Peace Corps as a Feed the Future implementing agency. The interactive format of the community of practice lets partners share lessons learned, challenges, events, and victories related to monitoring, evaluation, and learning. Partners and USAID have technical discussions on what we are measuring and how we are doing it. For example, KISAN II is exploring ways to incorporate recurrent monitoring for resilience, and Sabal (a Food for Peace activity) presented their methodology and shared lessons learned from resilience data collection they had carried out. Additionally, partners regularly attend each other’s evaluation presentations and outbriefs by researchers, increasing the cross learning among implementation partners.
SEED Office Learning Sessions are held monthly for SEED staff. These informal Friday afternoon sessions allow for a more relaxed examination of a topic, such as evaluability assessments, gender and social inclusion, data (sources, analysis, and visualization), payment for ecosystem services, and watershed profiles. We recently discussed some of the ways that USAID/Washington is using Feed the Future population-based surveys and monitoring data to tell our story, including Feed the Future Progress Reports, country web pages, and internal analyses and assessments.
The bi-weekly Integrated Monitoring and Evaluation Team (IMET) brings together USAID/Nepal M&E Officers from different sectors, including agriculture, environment, health, education, and the program office, to foster a culture of learning in the Mission informed by the use and analysis of data. A recent meeting covered the Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) Maturity Tool so Mission M&E staff can guide discussions to identify a few specific ways that more intentional and systematic collaborating, learning, and adapting can improve effectiveness.
Finally, in a bid to increase collaboration, learning and adapting between USAID activities, a number of joint site visits were organized in 2018. In March, the SEED Office organized a five-day visit to implementation sites of all major SEED activities. SEED staff, representatives from Mission technical and support offices (finance, acquisition and assistance, program), and SEED implementing partners spent five days together on a bus, traveling in Nepal’s Zone of Influence and seeing up close what each partner is doing. In June, a “watershed walk” in Rangun Khola watershed - involving activities from USAID’s SEED and Health Offices, staff and implementing partners - visited eight separate water activities within a 25-mile radius. During these visits, gaps in coordination between the implementing partners and the local government became apparent, and practices and opportunities to work together were identified.
To address these gaps, the Mission established a multisectoral working group, co-chaired by the Deputy Mission Director and a rotating local staff member to create more efficiency by promoting stronger collaboration across USAID’s technical interventions and provincial and local government. The working group launched a joint field visit to Dang and Pyuthan districts in February 2019, meeting with local leaders, civil servants and implementing partners. As a result of this visit, USAID is setting up a coordination mechanism in Dang in July 2019, which will function as a single point of contact for implementing partners and USAID staff in different sectors to coordinate with local and provincial government partners.
These MEL events and approaches provide an opportunity for USAID staff, implementing partners, and other stakeholders to implement a CLA approach. They help to institutionalize the space to share lessons, successes, challenges and meaningfully inform the direction of Feed the Future programming and beyond.
(1) Some case studies of Recommendations Workshops can be found at: https://usaidlearninglab.org/library/no-one-can-know-everything-collaborating-better-evaluation-recommendations and https://usaidlearninglab.org/library/improving-evaluation-use-senegal-through-recommendations-workshops.