Expert Insights: Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning for LL

  • Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 3.36.30 PMOur expert Catherine Borgman-Arboleda is a pioneer in participatory project monitoring and evaluation (PM&E) and especially in MEL: Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning. She’s a co-founder of Action Evaluation Collaborative and has 15 years of experience in NGO and non-profit evaluation, planning, and training.  Catherine has led evaluations for major foundations, international organizations and NGOs, as well as smaller grantmakers, organizations and collaboratives.

    Catherine Borgman-Arboleda kindly agreed to share her thoughts on monitoring and evaluation as a learning process – a concept central to both business and policy-oriented Living Labs (see, e.g., the resources under the LL tab):

    “Participatory data collection and research methods and tools [such as the Living Lab model] are vehicles, entry points, means to another end, which is really about shifting how we do development. This shift encompasses an awareness of power, its relationship to knowledge and the ability to have expertise redefined by stepping back for other world views.

    When we talk about this work, we need to be aware of who drives it; who takes leadership, who has ownership, sees value, and ultimately feels empowered and has agency because of, and through this process. This is ultimately what will determine success.

    In the spirit of openness and learning, underlying premises of the Tipping Point, it’s important to step back and think about what we are learning. Here are just a few of my personal takeaways and there are certainly others…

    • Timelines need to come from the pace, rhythms, and priorities of the practitioners. This does not lessen the ability to be accountable, but instead requires a process to develop a common understanding of what it means to be accountable, and to whom.
    • The building of ownership is painstaking. It requires a process that allows people’s innate creativity, and ability to think critically, to rise to the challenge, and be the driving forces.   This letting go requires a significant amount of programmatic flexibility and willingness to sit back, re-think about what constitutes knowledge, watch, and trust.
    • Reflective pauses, and turning the mirror on ourselves and our process, is essential. The process must be, by its very nature, iterative. There must be space to acknowledge that something isn’t working, and come up with a new ideas, plan, or approach.
    • Understanding how learning drives change is important. Change can happen to us, or we can be more instrumental in how that change takes place. For that to happen participants need the kind of spaces and time that allows learning and the active challenging of existing power relations that is an inherent part of any learning with others that allows one to use new knowledge and apply it to existing situations.
    • And thus, knowledge and for whom? Perhaps this is the most challenging. The question of credibility and the politics of evidence are points for heated discussion throughout international development and evaluation circles. This discussion continues to consume significant amounts of time and energy; to try and produce knowledge that meets an external set of highly subjective measures. Given that the educational sector generally operates with fairly limited resources, and choices must be made, one set of questions that are perhaps useful to consider are “Who needs to be convinced?”, “why?”, and “What are the costs then to knowledge production and needs?”

    Find our more in Borgman-Arboleda’s blog here.

    And, a bit more about participatory monitoring and evaluation:

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