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Defining Terms of Reference for project staff - M&E Officers

Display Date: 11/22/11

Dear all,

In the recently concluded LEWI grant workshop on gender, the India ICO tried to look at the integration of KM, M&E and Gender in projects to enhance effectiveness. This was a unique experience as this integration concept had never been tried before. One of the main outputs of the workshop was the development of TORs of the main cross cutting staff - M&E, Gender and KM - to help staff understand thier roles and responsibilitites with the integration of gender and KM. We did an interesting exercise. Instead of the M&E Focal Points making thier own TOR, we asked the Gender Focal Points to do so. And thus we switched around. This was in order to enable staff who see things from different perspective, help to bring about a more unified perspective to the roles and responsibilities of the others.

This discussion I would like to start of with the TOR of the M&E Focal Points. This is an elaborate TOR with much detail. The next discussion will be on the Gender Focal Points and the third on the KM Focal Points.

I would love to have some feedback here on this TOR and to help us develop a stronger and robust one that can be used as a template for not only on going projects but also new projects and design documents.

You can read the TOR here.

Comments
Thanks Judith for raising this important issue. It's great to see the reflection taking place at ICO and with its partners. I see a big challenge in getting the specs for project planning and M&E processes right- it is no easy task, and you and your colleagues/partners are boldly taking this on, including through the excellent work on outcome surveys carried out by IFAD projects in India. It is possible to get the planning and M&E specs right, and when done well, it has a huge payoff. When it isn't, projects are often rowing against the tide, and as a result have lower success in managing risks, are more reactive rather than proactive, and face a higher likelihood of missing targets or not achieving the objectives they set out to achieve. It's great to see IFAD projects in India making progress in the right direction.

On your invitation for feedback- as a start let me just share my personal conviction that (1) M&E work and assignments in any project need to be developed for the context and situation analysis of each individual project, and (2) there are different options for organising M&E work and distributing M&E responsilbilities among project staff and their partners- choosing the best option requires a good understanding of the skills available, motivations and thereby the likelihood of success for each option. This makes it difficult to comment on a draft ToR in general terms; it is necessary to understand the context and specificities of each project, and its human resources. In this respect, the estbalishment of country offices- that have the capacity to interact closely with projects and have an intimate understanding of country conditions- is a great asset for IFAD-funded programmes.

In my view, it is essential to acknowledge monitoring as closely tied to planning, as much as to KM and Gender. KM can provide most value when monitoring and planning processes are strategic and reflective of learnings from operations. Elaborating the theory of change and speficying the targets set under that theory leads to effective planning of project activities as well as of what information needs to be monitored in order to assess effectiveness in activities and in implementation of the theory of change. Consequently planning and M&E are intrinsically connected. Success in both gender mainstreaming and in KM is grounded, at least in part, in effective planning, information flow and reflection/learning processes.

Ultimately M&E role rotates around planning and facilitating information flows that assist in assessing/improving performance and in identifying constraints and opportunities- it is a key part of the role of each project staff and partner: in an ideal scenario, no M&E officer is needed. Most often, the strongest rationale/justification for appointing an M&E officer are the project weaknesses in implemeting results measurement and in ensuring critical reflection, or the complexities of the project that require assistance in these areas given an overstreched decision-maker. Under such instance it is prudent to keep M&E systems, and trainings/orientation to Project staff and partners as listed in the draft ToR, as simple as possible.

M&E needs to be kept simple because (even if it is an exciting work) it is a very challenging role. My recommendation for any M&E ToR is that key first steps are preparation of a situation analysis and mapping out (with key project actors, to the degree possible) of a theory of change (outlining the project logic for helping the target group). This should be followed by a clear articulation of how the targeted changes and project assumptions can be monitored by interested parties/stakeholders (including participating banks, local/community institutions, etc-- not only the M&E officer). Subsequent to defining which measures are most relevant for which stakeholders, detailing budget allocations for M&E work and a plan for using collected data is critically important.

I guess in summary I would suggest to keep M&E simple but do not design it as a standalone (it's an integral part of planning and management and therefore needs to be seen as part of the bigger picture), customise to project specificities, closlely link to planning, and continue to be bold: it can be done!

Thanks again for the effort to be bold and reflect on this as a team.
Kind regards

Posted on 12/5/11 8:29 AM.

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Dear Tawfiq,
Thank you for the insights into M&E. i agree with the fact that the M&E has to be rooted within the context of the project and has to be part of the bigger picture like all other topics. To aid the thinking process, and to look at linkages we carried out this exercise.
thanks once again for the encouragement.
Warm regards,
Judith

Posted on 12/9/11 4:46 AM in reply to Tawfiq El-Zabri.

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Dear Judith and Tawfiq,
It is indeed my pleasure to be a part of this process. This is my just an attempt and courage to post something which I feel on this discussion. Kindly forgive me if this does not suit to the intellect discussion.

I agree with the aspects raised by Tawfiq

It is necessary to understand the context and specificities of each project, and its human resources. In this respect, the establishment of country offices- that have the capacity to interact closely
• Yes, each project needs to understand the requirements with available resources. More importantly the capacity to interact closely, I feel this is only important aspects in designing any system. Whether KM system or M&E System
• One need understand the inter-personal relationships among the staff, as they are from various organizations, with different background i.e. educational, cultural, the ways of working and so on.
• As our project recruits staff only either after loan negotiation and certainly staff is not the part of the project Design then people coming together and understand the project in first instance then understanding the people in second instant becomes more important.
• Despite our thinking and having clear understanding of Terms of References, the more important is to understand people to interact closely.
• Once a project comes to second or third year stage probably people start interacting more closely in real terms with confidence. I think here project leadership is more important to lead the team. As our IFAD project life is Six to Eight years.
Ultimately M&E role rotates around planning and facilitating information flows that assist in assessing/improving performance and in identifying constraints and opportunities
• I think this never happen in real terms as only ToR is not the solution, Building Consensus among the team is more important than someone else developing your Terms of Reference. As our Gender Focal Points tried very hard to develop this TOR so each and every aspect is written in their role itself. I feel any Country Office particularly (Implementation Support Officer) should play a vital role in setting up project in first two years. His/her role would be building consensus among the team about the expectation of IFAD from the projects and how team can contribute and He/She should help to create such system in projects with the gained knowledge from previous experience. Sometime it is very important to understand whether Country Office themselves follow the same idea or not? Are they working/interact so closely or they just creating circles of things around themselves for own benefits.
• I personally think that the understanding and developing of inter-personal relationship among team is more important besides clearly developing their roles and responsibilities.
• As we have developed this TOR but how comfortable Monitoring and Evaluation Officers were remains unanswered.
• Unless they agree to their own it is of no use of developing nice TOR and it will not solve the problems as well. I feel this nice forum that M&E focal points to relook at the TORs and agree upon what really they can do? Sometimes people agree in forum but they do not follow in real life which certainly requires their commitment and very favorable atmosphere at the programme level.
• Last but not the least, is one need think for whom they are working are underserved and rural poor.

With Best Regards
Dilipsing Bayas

Posted on 12/12/11 6:08 AM in reply to Judith D'Souza.

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Thanks Judith- this is a very valuable exercise and an excellent resource. Perhaps I was trying to explain why it is difficult to provide external comments on the draft ToR. As Dilipsing shared, knowing the people dynamics and having close interaction is critical for appropriate facilitation/promotion of across-the-board M&E functions. In this context, I do apologise my comments are not as constructive as one would wish.

The one area where I would contribute a generic comment is on linkages and the bigger picture, where I suggest the TOR could strengthen the link to planning/budgeting processes and to performance management. Personally I advocate that the term M&E is incomplete, it should be "Planning & M&E", (or even "P, M and Learning").

I noted that you do mention planning and budgeting within the M&E ToR but this is very brief compared to other sections and half of it is on reporting on achievements. As above, I suggest that it is good practice to integrate planning and M&E functions into one role or at least into one team. M&E officer should help the project team in
- articulating (with its partners, to the degree possible) its theory of change (i.e. project logic in terms of its role and how it will contribute to helping rural poor women and men change their livelihoods outcomes or how it will contribute to service providers outcomes in a way that makes their delivery pro-poor and gender-sensitive, etc -- in India this may not be the case but in many countries this logic is often written from IFAD perspective; it is important that it is articulated according to local stakeholder perspectives, so that the related managemetn and M&E tools make sense to direct/local users if these tools),
- in quantifying outcome targets;
- in faciltiating a dialogue/process of detailing who will do what activities, by when, to reach those outcomes;
- elaborating what budgets are needed;
- what are the milestones that will indicate whether activities are indeed leading towards delivery of targeted outcomes;
- how (and how often) these milestones and outcomes will be measured, and what are the sources of qualitative and quantitative data;
- whether analysis is needed (eg in some cases periodic cost-benefit assessments);
- how findings will be communicated (in what form, and to who);
- what budgets and human resources are needed for carrying out these measurements, etc.

This is a facilitation and consultative approach that could even feed into managmenet review and finetuning of project staff ToRs.

I am not sure if this long list helps to share my view, that monitoring processes should help articulate and inform setting of strategies, targets and plans; and vice versa. in my view, the functions are intrinsically inseparable, if they are to feed performance driven, results-based management rather than act at a cold and detached accounting practice.

But as noted earlier, lists like the one above are only indicative; ultimately different contexts will have different needs.

Kind regards,
Tawfiq

Posted on 12/20/11 4:33 PM in reply to Judith D'Souza.

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Agreed with Tawfiq Elzabri comments

Posted on 12/24/11 7:06 AM.

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Agreed with Tawfiq Elzabri' s Comment.

I think we can start taking out observations and comments from each of the note and arrive at some common terms of reference and project can modify accordingly with the minimum common TOR if possible.

Thanks Tawfiq for your valuable remarks.

With Best Regards
Dilipsing Bayas

Posted on 1/2/12 7:28 AM in reply to Tawfiq El-Zabri.

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