More often than not, I come across a type of monitoring I’ve started to refer to as “tick & go” (many thanks to an MfI network member for the expression). This typically begins with a frantic scramble to develop SMART indicators which sometimes (but rarely) are linked to a clearly defined and understood programme logic. Indicators are then duly listed in a neat & tidy table with columns for targets & actuals (annual & cumulative targets) – preferably expressed as numbers or percentages.

This is all very well and I can most certainly appreciate why it’s so popular. When you’re running around supervising a number of different projects/programmes..have only a couple of days to deliver a report and too many reports to read – all you really want to do is “tick & go”! Unfortunately though, numbers & ticks are can go so far in helping us understand (and make decisions) within the complex situations most programmes are having to work in.

Recently, one of the Programme’s I work with had just completed a “tick & go” exercise. I wasn’t part of the exercise but read the report and had a few discussions with those that were. The numbers & percentages seemed to indicate that the Programme was progressing well in terms of engaging the target group (poor rural farmers) and starting to contribute to improving the lives of the target group. Ok…BUT – a more participatory & learning oriented monitoring exercise conducted immediately after (which I was part of) revealed a very different story. This exercise involved the use of participatory tools, where the farmers generated the data and facilitating discussions during which the farmers & extension officers critically reflected on what had happend, why, what that meant for the realization of intended results and what should be done in the future.

The story that emerged through this process was that, actually, in many of the target areas the leaders of the community selected individuals to engage in the Programme. Some of these individuals were farmers, some were not. Some had absolutely no clue about goats, banana’s, vegetables or whatever other product the intervention was focusing on in that area! Why did this happen? Often because there were mis-conceptions about the Programme (arising from engagements with other projects in the area). Leaders & other community members thought that getting involved meant access to tangible benefits (“posho“, money, equipment etc). What did this mean for the Programme? This meant that individuals that were not really farmers weren’t interested/committed (the activities & intended benefits were simply not relevant to them). They didn’t bother to contribute to group activities and sometimes even simply dropped out. This, ofcourse, brought the entire group down and those that were committed struggled to keep things going on their own. What should be done? During the reflection forums, we found out that Extension officers in some areas had already learnt from this and changed their strategies (strengthening the way in which they communicated the Programme and insisiting that individuals to volunteer as opposed to being selected by community leaders). This seemed to work and was a lesson that could be communicated to other target areas.

Granted – this process took longer and involved much more effort than the “tick and go” process. However, in being able to identify problems with targeting (and the implications for positive and sustained impact) and lessons learnt – the Project team was now in a position to address this very significant problem. More importantly, they were in a position to address it immediately (and not 3 years down the road when the mid term review comes along and highlights it as a major issue!).

The other dimension of this is one that relates to ownership & empowerment. By it’s very nature – the environment (social, political, natural etc) will constantly be changing and difficult to predict. Some of these changes will be influenced by the project and may be completely unexpected. From my perspective, this means that both the farmers & extension need to be able to identify, negotiate make decisions and adapt to changes individually & collectively.

These are things that “tick & go” processes are simply insufficient to contribute to.

Or perhaps…somebody has an alternative view?