VMER Team: Adopting, acknowledging and appreciating local perspectives and perceptions.

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Numerous programs and projects were initiated in an attempt to improve infrastructure and to improve the standard of living of individuals, communities and citizens or public at large.

Huge sums of money were allocated and it is very important to get value for money. Two important components that would contribute towards ensuring project or programs are successfully implemented are monitoring and evaluation.

Unfortunately, in a developing country like Vanuatu, most of the experts undertaking monitoring and evaluation for such projects were expatriates. However, in May 2017, Vanuatu Monitoring and Evaluation Research (VMER) Team commenced operations.

With currently 103 registered members, ninety seven (97) percent of which are Ni-Vanuatu with the remaining 3% shared by Australia and United States. Interestingly, 53 percent of the members are females and 47 percent are males. Furthermore, 57 percent of the members are aged between 21-29 years old so in the long term, there should be sustainability and growth within the VMER Team. In terms of qualifications, approximately forty five (45) percent of members of the VMER Team are university graduates or have completed some university studies, seven (7) percent have attained technical and vocational studies, eight (8) percent have completed senior secondary schools and the remaining 8 percent have other qualifications.

Difference between Monitoring and Evaluation

Although monitoring and evaluation are viewed as related, they have separate functions.

Monitoring is viewed as a process that provides information and ensures the use of such information by management to assess project effects, both intentional and unintentional and their impact. It aims at determining whether or not the intended objectives have been met.

Evaluation draws on the data and information generated by the monitoring system as a way of analysing the trends in effect and impact of the project. In some cases, it should be noted that monitoring data might reveal significant departure from the project expectations, which may warrant the undertaking of an evaluation to examine the assumptions and premises on which the project design is based. This is important as sometimes project design lacks local perspectives and this is where local perceptions or perspectives can come to light and be included in the project review.

Monitoring

Monitoring is the continuous assessment of a program or project in relation to the agreed implementation schedule. It is also a good management tool which should, if used properly, provide continuous feedback on the project implementation as well assist in the identification of potential successes and constraints to facilitate timely decisions. Unfortunately, in many projects, the role of monitoring is barely understood and therefore negatively impacts on the projects. Monitoring is not only concerned with the transformation of inputs into outputs.

Projects are monitored so as to (a) assess the stakeholders’ understanding of the project; (b) minimise the risk of project failure; © promote systematic and professional management and (d) assess progress in implementation.

It should further be recognized that, to be an effective management tool, monitoring should be regular but should take into account the risks in the project/program and its implementation and incorporate local perspectives and perceptions as much as possible.

In a developing country like Vanuatu, one tends to find the following aspects in monitoring and evaluation of projects: (a) There is a dominant use of external consultants in monitoring and evaluation; (b) There is a dominant use of donor procedures and guidelines in monitoring; © Sustainability is often not taken into account. (d) Monitoring is sometimes used to justify past actions. (e) Concerns of stakeholders are not normally included; and (f) Lessons learned are not incorporated.

If one looks at the aspects outlined above, it is clear that there is need to revisit for the purposes of sustainability. For example, over reliance on external consultants may impact negatively on sustainability.

It is generally accepted that, if the evaluations are to be objective, they have to be undertaken by external independent consultants. However, there is a general feeling that at times external consultants are overused. It is recommended that external consultants should work in a conductive environment to facilitate the transfer of knowledge to their local counterparts.

Evaluation

Evaluation can be defined as a process which determines as systematically and as objectively as possible the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and impact of activities in the light of a project or program performance, focusing on the analysis of the progress made towards the achievement of the stated objectives. In most cases, evaluation is not given emphasis.

It should also be noted that in some cases, evaluation has been used to resolve non-program issues affecting different donors. For instance, two organizations involved in separate but similar programs, the two may undertake an evaluation of the entire program to assess the extent to which they can cooperate. Consequently, evaluation can be seen as a process that determines the viability of programs or projects and facilitates decisions on further resource commitment.

Conclusion

Monitoring and evaluation when carried out correctly and at the right time and place are two of the most important aspects of ensuring the success of any projects or programs. Unfortunately, these two activities tend to be given little priority and as a result they are done simply for the sake of fulfilling the requirements of most funding agencies without the intention of using them as mechanisms of ensuring the success of the projects.

It should also be noted that each project may have unique requirements and in such circumstances, project or program administrators (managers) should attempt to develop suitable monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

It is recommended that further awareness be given to stakeholder in aspects of monitoring and evaluation so as to encourage them to use these tools in the proper manner and to consider local perceptions and perspectives.

This can only be achieved by involving more local input in the design, planning, monitoring and evaluation of such projects or programs. The Vanuatu Monitoring and Evaluation Research Team should be congratulated for such a great initiative to ensure that any future programs or projects should incorporate local perceptions and perspectives especially in the design stage.

The Government of Vanuatu (Department of Labour and Employment Services) should take the lead in promoting the full sharing and transfer of knowledge.

Talking about the sharing and transfer of knowledge, Oxfam in Vanuatu has taken the lead to initiate a Program Quality Network from within NGOs and Government.

This Program Quality Network meets every six (6) weeks. Another recent development is that the Ministry of Justice has launched an M& E network within the Departments under the Ministry.

This is a step forward for the Ministry of Justice and it is hoped that other Ministries will follow suit and the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister should be able to provide backing for such a network within Government.

If any project team is interested to use the services of the Vanuatu Monitoring and Evaluation Research Team, contact Kylie Mullins on +678 7727356 or email kmullins@devservices.net and the team can prepare a costed proposal for your organisation or project or program.

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