Community Participation in M&E
Community participation in M&E is widely viewed as an important contribution to high-quality programming. Community participation is the focus of Sphere common standard 1, which states that the disaster-affected population actively participates in the assessment, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the assistance program
Standards for community participation in M&E:
1. M&E systems track the changes most important to communities.
2. Communities participate in data collection for monitoring and for evaluation.
3. Communities contribute to the interpretation of M&E data.
Community participation is associated with increased relevance of programming, transparency, accountability, sustainability and ownership of impact—for both the Sphere Common Standard 1 and the CRS Global M&E Standard 2. Community participation in monitoring specifically is essential for the team to be able to identify and address problems and challenges as they arise in ways that are appropriate for the community and context.
What is community participation in M&E? Though it can take a variety of shapes, community participation refers to increasing the community‘s voice throughout the M&E cycle of design, collection, analysis and use of data. This guidance describes some good practices associated with community participation in M&E and how they contribute to improved outcomes and program quality.
1. M&E systems track the changes most important to communities
To increase community participation in M&E design, project teams ask communities to identify the changes that will be most valuable to them as a result of the project and, of these, which changes community members want and are able to monitor themselves. These changes then become indicators, which help the team understand project success through the eyes of the community.
It is often surprising how close the changes selected by the community are to existing project indicators. The stronger the needs assessment was in identifying community priorities and understanding the community‘s perspective about their current challenges, the closer the changes selected by the community and preexisting project indicators will be to each other.
Tips for community indicator selection: Use a strong facilitator who has had a solid orientation to the process. Make sure that the staff who lead these discussions have been well-oriented to the process and importance of community participation in M&E, and that they possess strong facilitation skills. Use familiar concepts and terms in discussions with the community. For example, instead of referring to ―indicators,‖ talk about ―changes that will show project success.‖ In many places, people are more comfortable thinking in terms of numbers or directions of change than in percentages. Facilitate the conversation using the terms and concepts that the community chooses. Focus on higher-level change. Focus on behavior change and impact at the household, community or individual level to determine project success and identify and solve problems during the life of the project. Community monitoring is not a means to help you count outputs delivered in a community; it should aim to understand the community‘s view on what has changed in the community as a result of the project, for whom, and why. Help the community identify the changes that are most important to them through a series of focus group discussions (FGDs). The project team can simply ask various groups in the community about the types of changes they hope to see as a result of the project and which changes may be most important to track in order to learn about project success. Hold separate FGDs to reflect the diversity of the community. At a minimum, hold separate FGDs with men and with women, focusing on the most vulnerable households in the community.
experiences will be most important, refer to the findings from the project needs assessment. For an education project, it may be important to hold separate FGDs with parents, teachers and students or with parents who do and do not send all of their children to school. In a food security project, you could organize FGDs by main livelihood activity or with households or individuals that share certain key vulnerability characteristics. These various FGDs may suggest different indicators that you can integrate into the M&E system. It is more valuable to reflect different perspectives in the M&E system than to seek consensus among groups. Seek confirmation of proposed indicators from the broader community. After these FGDs, explain the purpose of community monitoring to a larger audience during a community meeting or similar event; share the indicators that were suggested by the FGD for validation; and discuss mechanisms (who and how) for monitoring progress against these indicators. This will ensure that community members are aware of the monitoring process and how they can play a role in it.
Staff should conduct these FGDs once participatory project start-up is complete, so that communities are familiar enough with the project to be able to discuss meaningfully the changes that may occur as a result. If possible, these discussions should be held prior to finalizing the M&E system for the project (i.e., within the first quarter of the project), so that community monitoring can be included in the larger M&E system. The Good Enough Guide15 suggests including questions in the FGDs such as, ―Imagine the project is finished. How will people benefit?,‖ ―How will it affect your life?,‖ and ―What will you see happening?‖ It also may be useful to ask FGD participants if they see that some in the community will benefit from the project more than others and if so, who, how and why?
It is important that the project team views community-selected indicators as an integral part of the project’s M&E system. Include the indicators in the M&E plan template along with the community-proposed methods for data collection, analysis and use. When community-identified indicators differ from existing project indicators, highlight them as such.