“Stop asking us the why, what now, and so what questions. Because we are not used to answering questions; we’re used to just implementing what we’re told”. This was a reaction by one of the participants of the MfI workshop that was facilitated for the officials of the Department of Social Development in the Northern Cape province South Africa.

The training was specifically organised for this group and these are Development Practitioners, whose responsibility is to oversee and supervise implementation of developmental projects in local communities of the Northern Cape. At the start of the workshop they felt that the subject and the MfI concept was fun and easy to grasp, and it is something that can easily be adapted to their current way of doing things, and this was before the Theory of Change and M&E were introduced to them. The feeling was however different after the introduction of the Theory of Change and M&E, as they felt that these concpts were completely shaking their “comfort zone” (project implementation mode, and monitoring project implementation rather than measuring the impact of the project on communities).

What was fascinating with this workshop was the fact that the participants felt that the workshop had absolutely changed their mindset around how they have always viewed development, and even though they found M&E a challange, what was interesting was the fact that they understood that they found it challanging not because it is a diffuclt process, but because it’s a process that they had never seen as part of project implementation. They also struggled to understand how Theory of Change informs the monitoring and evaluation approach and process, and because their theory of change as a department has always focused on project implementation, it was nerve-wrecking for them to understand how then does one monitor and evaluate the impact of the project on communities, when the theory of change was never about making impact on communities.

The projects that are designed by the department of Social Development, that are supposedly aimed at reducing poverty, are mostly based on the national masterplan, and this means that all provinces implement the same type of projects across the country irrespective of the local conditions and capacities. The also is not a clear Theory of Change, which specific outcomes, and objectives, and in the process what then happens is that officials then adopt a project implementation mode as this is how their performance is maesured. their performance is not measured based on whether the project has had any impact in incraesing people’livelihoods, but rather on whether the project is up and running, irrespective of its relevance or non thereof.

One positive criticism about Mfi though is that there is need to further simplify M&E, as it currently still has very strong elements of scientific research process, and yes maybe we cannot avoid this completely. What we then need to do is design different M&E modules for different audiences. This recommendation is made at the back of the workshop with government officials, where they expressed that because of MfI they understand the value and role of M&E, however they do feel that it is too “technical” for them, and this scares them off.

One of the participants when asked what he understood by M&E, said “M&E is a process where one collects information about what they do, to assess whether they are still on the right tract.  It is therefore important that before you do anything you understand what you want to achieve, because how do you know that you have achieved, or not, if you didn’t understand what you wanted to achieve in the first place? Once you know what you want to achieve, and have outlined how you are going to achieve it, it’s easy to put in place a process to measure your progress. The information you collect needs to help you make decisions on your progress, whether you are on the right tract, side tracked, or have to change course, and what is most important is that it should help you answer the why, what now, and so what questions that we cannot answer now because we don’t know what impact the projects are supposed to make“.