Benon Basheka Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What skills do monitoring and evaluation (M&E) professionals need in African context and by implication what curriculum should universities offering M&E courses cover to impart these skills? Where should monitoring and evaluation courses be located within universities? These questions touch on the locus and focus dilemma that continues to bewilder African universities in their endeavor to increase the needed supply of M and E graduates.
Since the early 1990s, monitoring and evaluation has seen a steep climb within Africa – in terms of practice, profession and academic study. Specifically, as an academic field of study several universities now offer programmes in M&E; but the focus and locus problems remain ‘severe’ and has largely remained a ‘no-go’ area of debate in evaluation seminars, conferences and forums. This silence has a potential to negatively affect the continent’s urgent need to produce the professionals with appropriate skills. The two problems of (1) locus and (2) focus are interconnected.
The locus problem takes on a fundamental debate on where monitoring and evaluation courses should be located within university faculties/schools or departments. Resolving this debate partly requires one to take a historical journey of how the field has evolved. This approach will lead one to locate ‘the field’s ancestors’ and its progressive journey to cement itself as a discipline of academic study. Owing to the interdisciplinary character of the field, several universities have found it easy to offer it under departments and schools of their choice partly depending on which senior faculty of that university has seen the need to introduce it as a course. The initiators of the ideas have thus tended to house the M&E courses their own departments or schools. Owing to inter-departmental and school rivalry characteristic in most African universities, the monitoring and evaluation courses have been exported to ’friendlier’ departments and schools where the initiator’s ideas have been blocked in mother faculties or department. This mode has worked with a condition that the initiator of such a course is allowed to teach in a department where his idea has been accepted.
The above situation could explain the location of monitoring and evaluation courses in African universities. This debate can be comparatively globalized with what other universities say in the USA have historically done. In Africa, some universities offer M&E courses under schools of public policy and administration, schools of management, education, public health, agriculture etc. Others have specialized centres and institutes of the field but these are few in number. The field therefore lacks a natural known home! The debate on whether this field should be studied only at postgraduate levels also remains a matter that hardly receives any attention.
The locus problem led to the second problem – the focus problem. This is concerned with how the discipline should be taught (what approach should be adopted in teaching monitoring and evaluation). Recognition needs to be made that M&E is inter-disciplinary and a multiple set of skills are needed. But the skills mix has to be cautiously balanced to produce a relevant graduate. At Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU) where a Master’s Degree in Monitoring and Evaluation is offered, and where this author is privileged to provide his scholarship from, an inter-disciplinary, methodological and foundational knowledge approach is adopted. First, we recognize that the field has its theoretical foundations which ought to be covered in a university curriculum and as such can be adopted by all universities irrespective of where the course is located (department or school/faculty). Foundational theoretical courses cover the universal paradigms, theories and principles for conducting good evaluations. In this strand of skill set category lies the foundational knowledge of social science research methods due to the close relationship this area has with evaluation methods.
The M&E discipline also needs to cover sound methodological areas that facilitate conducting good evaluations. In this area, our curriculum covers basis of statistics, data collection and analysis skills for evaluation. A good evaluator must develop appropriate techniques of collecting data for evaluation and once data is collected must be analyzed and interpreted. In our view as a university, M&E professionals need a third strand of skills which give specialized skills and knowledge for application. Most monitoring and evaluation assignments are essentially projects and students need skills in project management. In all evaluations, communication and managing change are critical skills requirements. Some skills relate to the subject matter of the evaluand. If an evaluator for example wishes to evaluate a health project or programme, the specialized content skills of public health are critical which will be different from the transport project evaluation which may require transport economics and an agriculture project which requires agriculture knowledge. But all these require the same principles, and theories which should be covered by the foundational theoretical models.
You can find a recently published article by Professor Basheka (and Byamugisha) on the state of African Evaluation on our New Ideas page.