Monitoring and Evaluation in the 21st Century

"So much data will be collected, how will we analyze it all? How can we keep track of all the ongoing activities? How do we relate the parameters to each other?” These were among the concerns from partners during the initial phases of Africa RISING. For a sizable program like Africa RISING (AR) that brings together a wide variety of localized agricultural innovations in six different countries and multi-disciplinary partnerships across the globe, effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is beyond traditional offline reporting.

M&E is vital for tracking and measuring results, informing project adjustments, and keeping project managers and stakeholders up-to-date about successes and failures. AR continually generates realms of data through agronomic trials, household surveys, and focus group discussions, to name a few. With so much information, a modern approach becomes necessary to properly store, organize and make data rapidly accessible to other users. To this end, IFPRI developed a web-based Project Mapping and Monitoring Tool (PMMT) for Africa RISING that streamlines the M&E process and bridges together partners and knowledge.

The advantage of the PMMT is the online platform. Every country can upload data to the PMMT, in the same repository, and consult information reported by other colleagues. Specifically, the PMMT allows for the reporting of Feed the Future (FtF) indicators, as well as providing a flexible application allowing every AR team to define its own measures of success with country-specific indicators of sustainable intensification (SI). In addition to the data entry feature, the PMMT includes a mapping application that helps visualize the geographical context of targeted regions by allowing researchers to overlay various pixel-level socio-economic and biophysical data; spatial variables largely generated by HarvestChoice.

Like any new technology, the PMMT comes with a learning curve. To this end, HarvestChoice team members have completed a series of PMMT training sessions over the last few months in all project countries except Zambia (Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Mali), attended by dozens of Africa RISING partners. Also included in the trainings was a second tool composed of two excel templates containing consistency-embedded, pre-populated tabs that allow researchers to report SI indicators at the household and community levels.

“Developing a PMMT user guide is of paramount importance in understanding the success of Africa RISING across the three region in Africa.”

As trainees got the hang of it, country teams praised the M&E tools for increasing transparency while still offering the possibility to add viewing restrictions in the case of sensitive data. Participants particularly appreciated the mapping feature of the PMMT and the option to overlay biophysical and socio-economic variables on AR village locations, or create simple graphs and extract data from Mappr. Trainees also remarked on the possibility to define custom indicators in order to capture specific outcomes of local activities, while teams brainstormed a long list of possible indicators for future reporting.

“This was eye opening. We need more exposure and training to reap more benefits from the [PMMT] tool.”

By now each country team should have the capacity to report the entirety of the FtF indicators directly on the PMMT. Thanks to the training, team participation, and the introduction of consistency checks into the system, we expect data of much higher quality than in previous years. The teams should start reporting the first wave of data on the PMMT by this spring. The introduction of a modern M&E structure will be especially critical during the second phase of Africa RISING when the project begins to considerably scale up SI technologies.

Citation

HarvestChoice, 2015. "Monitoring and Evaluation in the 21st Century." International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC., and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. Available online at http://harvestchoice.org/node/9995.

Oct 7, 2015