Unpacking M&E with Dr Kanyamuna: Evidence-based policy making key for development


THE commonly used vehicles to undertake development work include projects, programmes and policies. These are used by either government and non-government agencies to improve the lives of people in all sectors of human endeavour. I have to mention that although projects, programmes and policies have common intentions (i.e. of improving human conditions), they are all different in significant ways.
According to the Project Management Book of Knowledge, a project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product or a service. Thus, projects look at the execution and implementation processes. A programme refers to a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. As for a policy, it is defined as a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. Policies are generally adopted by a governance body within an organisation. Policies can assist in both subjective and objective decision making.

In Zambia, we have a lot of policies that provide critical development guidelines in all sectors of our economy. Instead of making policies on weaker foundations, Zambia deserves evidence-based policy making and my emphasis in today’s column is commitment by our government and non-government agencies to results-based management (RBM) policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
While economic, social and environmental challenges are increasingly complex, governments and other development agencies are facing growing pressure to deliver more and better for less. Policy M&E has a critical role to play in effectively designing, implementing and delivering public policies and services. Ensuring that policy making is informed by sound evidence on what works is essential to achieve key long-term objectives. Therefore, policy monitoring and evaluation and its strategic use throughout the policy cycle can:

. Support strategic planning and policy making by improving the links between policy interventions and their outcomes and impact.

. Enhance accountability and provide legitimacy for the use of public funds and resources.

. Promote learning and enhance policies’ efficiency and effectiveness.

Further, the concept of ‘evidence-based policy making’ has been gaining currency and urgency over recent years. The use of strong evidence can make a difference to policy making in at least five ways:

1. Achieve recognition of a policy issue: The first stage in the process of policy formation occurs when the appearance of evidence reveals some aspect of social or economic life which had, until then, remained hidden from the general public and from policy-makers. Once this information is revealed, a variety of groups, such as civil servants, non-government organisations, development agencies or the media, lobby for a new policy issue to be recognised and addressed.

2. Inform the design and choice of policy: Once a policy issue has been identified, the next step is to analyse it, so that the extent and nature of the problem can be understood. This understanding provides the basis for any subsequent policy recommendations.

3. Forecast the future: Attempting to read the future is also required in order to know whether a policy measure taken to alleviate a problem in the short-run will be successful in the long-run as well. When a government is committed to attaining targets in the future, forecasting models allow an assessment of whether these targets are likely to be met.

4. Monitor policy implementation: Once policies are being executed, information is required by policymakers to monitor the expected results associated with the policies. Careful monitoring can reveal when key indicators are going off-track, which prompts further analysis leading to a change of policy.

5. Evaluate policy impact: Measuring the impact of a policy intervention is more demanding of methodology and of information than is monitoring policy implementation. Incorporating an explicit mechanism for evaluating policy impact into the design of a policy is a key step to ensure its evaluability.

While the practice of policy formulation and implementation has been with us for a long time, evidence-based policy making remains a challenge across the African continent generally and in Zambia particularly. Many of our policies are not anchored on evidence and clearly lack the results-based articulation. It is largely the reason many of them are not properly monitored and evaluated. Once that happens, it becomes impractical to take valuable lessons for future refinements and improvements from such interventions. For any development agency that takes interest and implements evidence-based policy making – its achievements will be clearer, measurable and replicable. If all our current policies were to be reviewed or evaluated, many of them will fail the ‘evidence-based’ test. Once formulated and launched by usually high raking government officials, Zambian policies are difficult to track and measure. So what if we have articulated a policy in agriculture, health, education, mining, etc? To develop in a predictable manner, we need all the ‘so what’ questions to be answered on any of our policies.

Finally, those in charge of public policy should ensure that there are clear and stronger linkages between policies, programmes and projects. Policy is at the higher level, it sets the development agenda and incentivises or disincentivises development spaces. Zambians can also demand for evidence-based policy making in order to create a resilient country with forthright opportunities for all. At the moment, this is a very big gap in our country. Aluta continua for a Zambia that shall institutionalise and sustain evidence-based policy making.

Dr Vincent Kanyamuna holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Monitoring and Evaluation and is lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia, Department of Development Studies. For comments and views, email: [email protected]

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