Talk:How Monitoring can address learning needs

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Irene Guijt, 2008/11/03

Hi again

Offline I was asked to share the learning purposes that I currently use when thinking through some learning endeavour. I came to this list when I was simply taking stock of the great variety of ways in which organisations use the term 'monitoring', conceptually and practically. So it hasn't been developed with a comprehensive 'all learning purposes for all contexts for ever and ever' notion in mind. I haven't looked at this list with the question of whether it works for clarifying evaluations. It is work in progress so critical observations and suggestions would be great.

My list of learning purposes to which monitoring contributes is:

  1. Financial accountability Maintain financial viability or security (Focus on: proof of implementation of agreed plans)
  2. Operational improvement Adjust implementation to be more efficient, effective (Focus on: quality and outputs of activity implementation)
  3. Strategic readjustment Examine/question strategy (e.g., by identifying and testing underlying assumptions) (Focus on: higher level goals of the organisation - impacts, theory of change, assumptions about strategy (implementation and management)
  4. Capacity strengthening Improve individual performance or that of the organisation (Focus on: individual behaviour, attitude, effectiveness, doubts related to work/personal strategy)
  5. Contextual understanding Keep up-to-date on the context of implementation (Focus on: political, social, environmental, economicchanges)
  6. Deepening understanding (research) Understand key uncertainties better and to formulate new questions on which to focus (Focus on: any topic that is unclear, experimental, innovative)
  7. Self-auditing Maintain transparency and therefore trust in (collective) use of resources (Focus on: use of collective resources, such as forest products, micro-credit)
  8. Advocacy Push for political change/in public policies/with decision makers (Focus on: topic related to the policy change being demanded)
  9. Sensitisation Sensitise others to build and sustain support for concerted action (Focus on: wider dissemination of a concern or experience; building critical mass of support for a concern/experience)

In practice, a combination of these is usually at play. I noticed that that the core purpose hugely influences practice. Each learning purpose can thus bring forth a custom-built process, with precise defining of tasks, protocols and responsibilities. So just talking in terms of 'developing the organisational monitoring system and processes' inevitably leads to problems unless distinct purposes are identified and catered for. As I wrote in my thesis earlier this year: " Clarity about learning purpose is key as it helps make monitoring operational (Guijt 2007). Each of these forms of monitoring, due to its purpose, dictates the following features:

  • the relevant time frame (longer or shorter period of tracking);
  • linkage to decision-making (each space where information is used is governed by different priorities);
  • degree of participation of wide group of stakeholders;
  • depth of analysis and rigour (the audience indicates what is legitimate information)."

Reference to my published thesis can be made as follows: Guijt, I. 2008. Seeking Surprise. Rethinking monitoring for collective learning in rural resource management. Published PhD thesis. Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Serafin D. Talisayon, 2008/11/03

Thanks Irene.

I also encounter the following learning points from evaluations of development projects:

  • Sustainability of the project (after external support or donor money

is used up)

  • Useful knowledge generated by the project (which can be reused in next similar projects), e.g. work templates (forms, checklists, Excel files,

etc.), manuals and guidelines, what does not work or hindering factors, directory of useful external contacts, specific tools (e.g. participatory surveys for specific purposes), etc.

Are the above 2 covered somehow within your 9 learning purposes (e.g. is sustainability part of self-auditing and sensitisation)?

I like learning purpose 8 -- "Advocacy push" -- because sometimes we learn that some projects cannot progress further due to policy gaps on the part of local or national government.

Director for R&D, Knowledge Innovation Expert, CCLFI. Philippines.

Irene Guijt, 2008/11/03

Hi Serafin

Sustainability of any kind of effort would, for me, be a sub-question under strategic improvement.

Useful 'knowledge' can be an output related to any of the other learning purposes. You can produce important insights on any issue.

Rosien Herweijer, 2008/11/03


Your learning purposes seem very thoughtful. Actually they made me smilewhen - with your list at the back of my mind - I looked back on some of my own evaluation experiences: they perfectly illustrate why some of them seemed such a waste of time and energy (and money)!

Besides conflicting purposes - I do feel some may be easier to combine than others - all these will tend to compete for attention and resources.

You also mention the relationship between purpose and approach and methods. I recognize that. And I have seen evaluation processes in which there was considerable debate on approach and tools but much less on actual ownership and (learning) goals and purposes. I think clarifing in advance with all involved what their learning purposes are, and whose purpose will actually be the main influence on the choice of approach and methodology, will help to manage expectations. Besides preventing dissapointments, it will also reinforce one's position as an evaluator. Finally I think discussing these learning purposes and their methological implications may make issues power more transparant.

Something else, I wonder of a useful additional learning purpose could be learning to "re-inforce partnerships". You could stretch the purpose of "capacity building" in that sense, but it may require a slightly different approach compared to *regular *capacity building at individual and organizational levels. At the same time, it may also fit what you describe as "self-auditing" but their is more to partnerships than use of resources.

Anyway, thanks for your contribution(s), very helpful indeed.

Frey Faust, 2008/11/03

Hi Irene,

why do you think that sustainability of effort is a sub-questio=?

Irene Guijt, 2008/11/03

Hi Frey

I'm not sure how you're using the term sustainable but let me assume it is sustainable impact of efforts. When you're monitoring or evaluating with the purpose of 'strategic improvement', you will ask 'what appears to hinder a sustainable impact of our efforts and what seems to be conducive to sustained impacts of our efforts?'. Sustainability can, therefore, be considered a kind of quality standard that helps guide one's strategy.

Does that help understand my perspective?

Irene Guijt, 2008/11/03

Hi Rosien

Yes, partnership strengthening could fall under 'capacity building' to some extent. It depends on whether one's unit of analysis is a project, an organisation or a partnership.