The Association of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture (AIRCA) was set up to bring together agricultural research for development (AR4D) organizations for integrated action to deliver sustainable agricultural intensification at the landscape level. AIRCA is a nine-member alliance focused on increasing food security by supporting smallholder agriculture and rural enterprise within healthy, sustainable and climate-smart landscapes. AIRCA has launched an initiative to set up a Community of Practice on Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (CoP on MEL) in March 2016 with an inaugural workshop at the World Vegetable Center in Taiwan focusing on the use of theory of change. During this workshop, it was agreed that CoP on MEL meetings should be held annually. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) hosted the second annual meeting of the AIRCA CoP on MEL Group from 1-3 March 2017 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Seven out of the nine Monitoring and Evaluation experts from AIRCA member organizations participated in the meeting. The theme of the second annual meeting was ‘Complexity-aware Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact Assessment Approaches’.
Complexity-aware Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) has an important role to play in helping programmes harness complexity. This requires a MEL system that can spot emerging outcomes, whether expected or unexpected; identify processes driving outcomes, and the contribution research is making, or has made to them; and create spaces for regular reflection and learning that inform future planning and implementation. Organizations that wish to use complexity-aware MEL need to be flexible enough to catalyze and respond to emerging opportunities and threats, and build M&E capacity to do so.
The workshop focused on AIRCA centers’ experiences of evaluating complex interventions and the often-unexpected outcomes they generate; and, using monitoring and evaluation to support adaptation and learning.
The overall goal of the workshop was to strengthen and expand the use of complexity-aware MEL and such impact evaluation approaches in AIRCA Centres. The specific objectives were to: share, appreciate and learn from the experience of AIRCA partners; and, strengthen the AIRCA community of practice on monitoring, evaluation and learning.
Dr David Molden, Director General ICIMOD, delivered the opening remakes and welcomed the participants. Dr Ram Fishman, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Tel Aviv University, Israel delivered the keynote speech. Dr Fishman highlighted the importance of complexity aware and rigorous impact assessment approaches and methodologies. He highlighted the importance of Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) and Quasi Experimental Designs (QEDs) in assessing the impacts of research and development interventions.
Day 1 of the meeting was dedicated to complexity aware impact assessment approaches. Participating AIRCA representatives presented their impact assessment studies and best practices. Participants highlighted the issues and challenges associated with conducting complexity aware impact assessments. Day 1 culminated in a SWOT analysis of complexity aware impact assessment approaches.
Day 2 of the meeting was dedicated to complexity aware monitoring and evaluation approaches. Experts presented monitoring and evaluation systems practiced in their respective centers. Experts deliberated on how M&E systems of participating centers could be further strengthened. Day 2 was culminated with a SWOT analysis of complexity aware M&E systems.
On day 3 participants were taken to Kavre district where ICIMOD is partnering with CEAPRED in implementing its Resilient Climate Village initiative. Participants observed climate smart technologies being used by the communities. Participants held informal discussions with the beneficiaries. They were given a briefing about the evaluation design that has been established by ICIMOD to assess the impacts of Resilient Climate Village intervention. After the field visit the participants got together and reflected on the second annual meeting. The participants provided valuable suggestions to further strengthen AIRCA CoP on MEL.