Conceptual or narrative framework
According to a release by PATH in 2011, conceptual frameworks are seen as diagrams that identify and illustrate relationships among relevant organizational, individual and other factors that may influence a programme and the achievement of goals and objectives. Stem, Margoluis, Salafsky and Brown (2005) defined a conceptual framework as a representation of cause-and-effect relationships in a generic fashion. Conceptual frameworks provide a generalized description of reality used to develop specific conceptual models which could be used as an evaluation tool (Stem et al., 2005). Conceptual frameworks help determine which factors will influence the programme and outline how each of these factors (underlying, cultural, economic and socio-political) might relate to and affect the outcomes (United Nations, 2013). They do not form the basis for M&E activities but can help explain programme results. In formulating a conceptual framework, Kusek and Rist (2004) argued that some pertinent questions are meant to be asked to have a fit and functional frame such as “What is the theory of change framing the process?” “What is the range of potential exposures people may have to the process?” “What is a realistic timeframe for behaviour change to occur?” And, finally, “how will this change be measured?”
In addressing the first question, the theory of change is important to be studied. As opined by Taplin and Clark (2012) and Taplin, Clark, Collins and Colby (2013), the theory of change reflects the underlying process and pathways through which the hoped-for change, which can be in the form of knowledge, behaviour, attitudes or practices, at the individual, institutional, community or another level, is expected to occur. A theory of change defines the pieces and steps necessary to bring about a given long-term goal (Stem et al., 2005). A theory of change describes whether it is a single programme or a comprehensive community initiative, i.e. the types of interventions that bring about the results hoped for. It includes the assumptions that stakeholders use to explain the process of change (Kusek & Rist, 2004). This is often supported by research (Stem et al., 2005).
The other questions raised lead to more questions such as “Who is going to be exposed directly to the process?” “Who will be receiving services?” and “Who might be exposed indirectly to the intervention?” The conceptual framework identifies appropriate measurements for the kind of change that is expected (Frankel & Gage, 2007; McDonald et al., 2007). The UNDP (2009) also indicated that a narrative framework should reflect the plans that may be in place to strengthen national or sub-national M&E capacities, the existing M&E capacities and an estimate of the human, financial and material resource requirements for its implementation.
Steps in developing a monitoring and evaluation framework
In recent times, researchers in the field of M&E have come up with numerous steps to be taken to formulate a functional and effective M&E framework. One of those works is seen in Frankel and Gage (2007). The steps are as follows:
- 1 Determine the purposes of the M&E mechanisms and assess the information needs of each actor;
- 2 Ensure that prevention and response interventions have defined objectives, outputs and indicators;
- 3 Establish coordinated and common reporting tools;
- 4 Determine methods for obtaining information on indicators;
- 5 Assign responsibilities for information gathering, determine the period and frequency of data collection and allocate resources; and
- 6 Establish mechanisms for sharing information and incorporating results into prevention and response planning.
A monitoring and evaluation system
Figure 3.3 illustrates an M&E system developed and used by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP, 2009: 55). According to Hardlife and Zhou (2013), programmes with the right technology and adequate financial supports are seen to be performing poorly owing to the lack of understanding of the balance between technology, management and capital. It is therefore imperative to institute an M&E system that will manage the entire programme process. An M&E system is a set of organizational structures, management processes, plans, indicators information systems, reporting lines and standards that ensure that projects are implemented effectively. The need to deliver projects to set objectives and standards has increased the consciousness among construction industry professionals about the relevance of an M&E system. The system aids in checking progress, ensuring efficient and effective utilization of project resources as well as the relationship between the project and M&E team. During M&E of projects, systems ensure that inputs, activities and processes are well-coordinated
What do we want?
Figure 3.3 A monitoring and evaluation system.
Source: UNDP, 2009, p. 55
and checked regularly and consistently to warrant the desired output, outcomes and impact are met as planned. Furthermore, the system will also ensure the M&E activities are executed coherently as intended and will reveal all bottle-necks in the project implementation process (Kerzner, 2017). An M&E system also serves as a guide to facilitate the process of collection, analyzing and reporting on data based on agreed benchmarks of performance indicators (Omonyo, 2015). It serves the overarching accountability challenge in most project implementation. An M&E system is necessary to provide information that measures and guides the project plan, certifies processes, meets internal and external reporting requirements and informs future programming (Chaplowe, 2008). In developing a good system to monitor and evaluate projects and activities, it is imperative to consider who the primary beneficiaries are, the intended goal or desired change, the assumptions that link the project objectives to the particular intervention and the project scope and size (Chaplowe, 2008; Guijt & Woodhill, 2002; He et al., 2012).
The M&E systems not only serve as a guide to the implementation process but also inherently present the opportunity to gather relevant results information regarding progress for effective decision making (Briceno, 2010; Hardlife & Zhou, 2013; Njama, 2015) and also efficiently communicate such information to stakeholders to foster interaction among stakeholders to build team spirit (Routledge, 2015). Further, a clear responsibility for M&E is defined (He et al., 2012; Kusek & Risk, 2004). For the system to operate efficiently and generate the needed information, monitoring systems, as well as evaluation systems must complement each other to maximize their strengths and weaknesses for effectiveness and efficiency (Hardlife & Zhou, 2013). Setting up the system, implementing and evaluating the process together and communicating the results are recognized as the most important aspects of the M&E process (Njama, 2015). As such, the system should demonstrate independence, transparency, autonomy, credibility, usefulness to ensure sustainability and also guarantee confidence in the information and results it generates for decision making (Briceno, 2010). Also, Briceno (2010) asserts that a proper M&E system will identify the impact and challenges of the project to help project managers strategize for future projects. In this regard, the success of the project is dependent on the interrelatedness of every stage (sub-system) of the project to the broader general system since the outcome at each indicator at each level will influence the other stages and vice versa which will affect the achievement of specific and general goals.
Both Guijt and Woodhill (2002) and Umhlaba Development Services (2017) outline four interlinked components that describe a good and effective M&E system which they further indicate must be linked to the project strategy. This is represented in Figure 3.2 and includes the design and setting up system, gathering and managing project information, reflecting critically to improve actions and disseminating M&E information. Chaplowe (2008) subsequently indicates that M&E should be founded on four main components: that change is expected by the project, the precise objectives leading to the change, indicator and how they will be measured and, finally, how data will be collected and analyzed. In sum,
Monitoring and evaluation system 41 the system aids management to take decisions on the overall success, failure, relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of their programmes (Hardlife & Zhou, 2013).