A SMIP team, made up of 4 members (3 SMIP & 1 MfI Associate) are currently in Zanzibar preparing for a participatory M&E planning workshop. Two of the team members have considerable experience in designing participatory M&E systems, while the two other members have less experience. Additionally, three of the team members have considerable experience in agriculture and extension systems and one of the members less so. 

This and subsequent posts will contain a short description of our lessons & experiences as we go along. These will be lessons/experiences from different perspectives (e.g. experienced/not so experienced) and arising from discussions between team members.

Please feel free to join in and leave your comments (e.g. if you have similar or contrary experiences; or whether or not you find these posts useful)

Prior to the planning workshop: Lessons/experiences on preparatory activities

  1. What does an M&E facilitator need to know before they come in to facilitate the design of a participatory M&E system? 

We discovered that the obvious is not so obvious!

There are occasions where the M&E facilitator believes that they only need to know about M&E in order to effectively facilitate an M&E workshop. Unfortunately – it’s not quite that simple! In reality, the M&E facilitator needs to know a whole lot more. At a minimum, they should have reviewed & have a fairly good understanding of:

  • The Programme/project: Read up on all relevant project documents (e.g appraisal/design documents; project implementation manuals etc)
  • Organizational structures:  Ensure that you have a good understanding not only of the Prog/Project’s organizational structures, but also that of the other stakeholder groups (e.g. Local Government Authorities). This will help you to guide the design of information flows & communication channels during M&E planning
  • The subject: It’s not possible for an M&E facilitator to be familiar with all subjects they may engage with (e.g. natural resource management, agriculture etc). Therefore, they should do as much background reading on the subject as possible beforehand. This will also help to identify past experiences with M&E in a particular area (e.g. experiences with participatory M&E systems for farmer field schools). 
In addition to reading background documentation – an initial scoping exercise can be very useful. This involves going to visit different stakeholder groups to gain some understanding/insight into the following issues: 
  • Who are the stakeholders; how will they be involved in (and/or benefit from the Programme)?
  • What type of information (if any) are they currently collecting & for what purposes (if they are submitting reports – we need to get copies of these reports)?
  • How do they currently manage & share their information?
  • How do they gain new information that relates to their work?
  • How do they make decisions? Share information about these decisions?
  • What do they feel they would like to know about the Programme (in order to help them to i) benefit from it more and ii) carry out their roles more effectively)?
  • What do they feel are their main strengths & weakness with regards to information gathering, analyzing, sharing?
  • What do they feel are their main strengths & weaknesses with regards to decision making (with a particular focus on the use of information for decision making)?
A scoping mission can be done in different ways; a) through a workshop involving stakeholder representatives; or b) visits to stakeholder offices/homes/farms etc. Both ways have pros and cons. A workshop enables one to gather a considerable amount of information in a short time (through group discussions etc). However, actual visits gives one a better sense of the realities of the stakeholders working lives (for example, you can see whether or not they (e.g. farmers) have a structure with walls that would allow them to post information for everyone look at). 
Preparing materials & the methodology for the M&E planning workshop: Some insights from our experiences
  1. Working in different languages
When one is not familiar with the language commonly spoken in the area you’re working in – it can be very challenging! We found it’s much more complex than simply identifying a good translator. Words in one language, when translated literally can have very different meanings – and your translator will often not pick up on the subtle nuances. For example, in KisSwahili – “Monitoring” is translated as – “Ufuatiliaji”.In essence, this means “to follow up”. When you’re facilitating a workshop that is trying to shift paradigms from an accountability perspective to a learning one – to “follow up” doesn’t really help you!! 
So when developing materials/guidelines for use during the workshop – we learnt that we had to think very carefully about the words we used in english and how they would translate to KisSwahili. We talked to the programme staff, asking them to first translate it into KisSwahili and then translate back into English the literal meaning of this KisSwahili word (an exercises that led to very interesting results!).
..After all – if language shapes the way we think (and vice versa) – then one can’t be too careful! 
And now…off to the workshop! Wish us luck?!
Elias, Sindu & Mine