The CPWF is an experiment in how to do research for development better. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is central to this experiment because it provides much of the information and some of the tools and approaches that allow CPWF staff to monitor the experiments, learn and improve. M&E is fundamental to adaptive management, one of the CPWF’s core principles. M&E is a core process in support of Basin Leaders and the Coordination and Change Projects they lead. However, the CPWF M&E system is itself an experiment in blending together ideas and theory into a practical and coherent approach that should help CPWF partners be better at doing research for development. If the CPWF is successful then we will have an innovation that will have wide applicability in the new CGIAR system, and in other endeavors that wish to harness research to developmental processes in an intelligent way. The CPWF M&E system builds on Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis (PIPA) work carried out in CPWF’s Phase 1.
Our M&E staff works with projects and BDCs to build their respective theories of change (ToC) (see box). A good theory of change is the starting point for M&E because it makes explicit what the project is trying to do. This helps with identifying baselines and indicators with which to measure progress. Good theory of change is also the starting point for communicators who need to know who should change and how, so that they can work with projects and BDCs to help turn these intentions into practice.
This short video shows what we are attempting to combine probably better than anything else, and it is fun. Our basic approach is to plan for the future, as if linear cause-and-effect logic works, and then regularly revisit and challenge this ‘theory of change’ using information from monitoring and other sources. If the change from original plans can be justified in terms of what is being learned, and is underpinned by good process, then funds can be redirected at project and program levels. This is adaptive management in practice.The CPWF M&E system is, we believe, an important innovation because we are explicitly attempting to put together two very different ways of seeing the world — ordered systems thinking, and complex system thinking. Ordered systems thinking assumes that it is possible to plan for the future and puts value on linear, cause and effect logic. Complex systems thinking assumes that change is an emergent property of people interacting with each other and is very difficult to predict and plan for. We are attempting to combine elements of both, because while sharing the complex view of the world, we know that in practice projects and programs need to produce budgets and work plans to justify donor support.