Improving M&E culture in African governments to support evidence-informed decision-making – survey insights ​​​​​​

2020-08-17 blog informs learns twende mbele
Improving M&E culture in African governments to support evidence-informed decision-making – survey insights ​​​​​​


Many countries in Africa are using monitoring and evaluation (M&E) as part of their efforts to improve the performance of the public sector through evidence-informed decision-making. A key foundational component of this is the idea of an ‘M&E Culture’. Monitoring and evaluation culture is composed of perception, underlying assumptions, beliefs, and values, reflected in the degree of support by senior management, people’s behaviour, and institutional practices, and embedded in policies, guidelines, tools, and procedures. The predominant M&E culture drives the extent to which the institutionalisation of national monitoring and evaluation systems is entrenched within and across government ministries, departments, or agencies. This culture may reflect values of compliance, or evidence-use for learning and improvement.

Three pioneer countries in establishing government-led national evaluation systems are Uganda, Benin, and South Africa. These countries have been working together to share experiences and learn from each other around M&E, a partnership now formalised through Twende Mbele - an African M&E peer-learning partnership. More recently Ghana, Niger, and Kenya have joined the partnership.

Twende Mbele partner countries have been attempting to foster a culture of learning and evidence-use within their respective country-level governments. A baseline assessment of five Twende Mbele countries assessed the state of M&E culture by seeing how the various M&E systems interact to improve performance and accountability, with a specific focus on policy, approach, concepts, framework, and organisational arrangements in their public sector. Over 26 national departments and ministries participated in the questionnaire with 442 respondents from the five countries. Overall, the baseline study found relatively high levels of evidence-use; however, this was mostly embedded in a culture of compliance, rather than of learning.

A culture of compliance values making sure it is covering the regulations and requirements necessary to do business. In this form of M&E culture, organisation-wide values, norms, and expectations make compliance a way of life. A culture of learning on the other hand goes beyond compliance. In this type of culture, learning is valued, and people are encouraged to use evidence to improve performance.

The results of the baseline study showed some strong points and some areas of weakness in terms of an M&E culture operating in the five countries. Although there was significant demand for M&E evidence from ministers and senior managers, in over a 1/3 of the cases’ findings were concealed, and around 40% of respondents perceived senior management as not championing honesty about performance.

Trends also indicate limited respect for evidence-based decision-making by managers with them not liking certain conclusions which they deem as ‘unhelpful’, and 50% and upwards of manager’s fear admitting mistakes. This limited respect does not create an environment conducive for learning or incentivise improvement in policy or programmes. Respondents also suggested that M&E units are seen as not being influential which may indicate that there is not a generalised, diffused culture of reflection or using evidence in decision-making or for learning across respondents.

The barrier to the use of evaluation for decision-making, learning, and accountability cited by all five case study countries was that there are insufficient financial resources allocated to evaluation. Other barriers to the use of evaluations for decision-making included:

  • Time pressures mean decisions are often taken without proper diagnosis of the problem,
  • There are inadequate mechanisms for implementing evaluation recommendations (e.g. management improvement plan),
  • Managers do not have the skills to understand and use evaluation recommendations, and
  • The focus stays on activities and outputs rather than outcomes and impacts.

Addressing some of the barriers to evidence-use will take a concerted effort to change the organisational culture toward openness to reflection, evaluative thinking, and accountability for performance. Given that systems often reinforce cultural attitudes, countries looking to institutionalise evaluation will need to actively scrutinise how the system interacts with existing, and desired, cultures within the government. Increasing funding and capacity for internal evaluation may assist meeting demand for evidence in a timely fashion, improve the manager’s ability to understand and use findings, and reduce the reliance on external knowledge brokers.

Cultural change takes a long time and is situated in various systems that both inhibit and foster different types of culture. However, as the five countries continue to overcome some of the barriers to use of M&E – and particularly through addressing the cultural challenges – Twende Mbele expects to see the culture change gradually.

About the author

Parfait Kasongo is a communications and learnings co-ordinator at Twende Mbele.

The views expressed in published blog posts, as well as any errors or omissions, are the sole responsibility of the author/s and do not represent the views of the Africa Evidence Network, its secretariat, advisory or reference groups, or its funders; nor does it imply endorsement by the afore-mentioned parties.