The state of Monitoring and Evaluation in African universities: The focus and locus dilemma?

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Benon Basheka Email:

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.

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1 Comment

  1. Cara Waller says:

    The focus and locus discussion of evaluation curriculum in African institutions of higher education is a critical part of the “Made in Africa” debate, calling for more contextualised and locally-driven monitoring and evaluation in Africa. I believe no one knows Africa, better than Africans. Local knowledge and values must be transformed or inculcated into monitoring & evaluation concepts and practises and as such reflected in the core curriculum of African institutions offering monitoring and evaluation.

    One will not say for sure that all universities in Africa should offer the same curriculum, but just like in Accounting, Economics or any other programme, no matter in which university it is offered on the continent, one will be sure that key concepts will be covered. The issue of competitive advantage should be relegated to how the course is taught in a particular institution, how practical it is made and also the cost of such in each university. This calls for more collaborative initiatives rather than the rivalry that currently dominates institutions of higher education. Collaboration will lead to knowledge sharing, and creating better synergies, which can drive Africa’s use of evaluation in solving its developmental problems.
    The location of the programme in a particular institution should rather be determined by the generally agreed standard component courses of the core curriculum rather than the locus determining the focus. The fact that we say the field is multidisciplinary does not warrant allowing it to be tossed anywhere by whoever champions its existence in an institution. Accountants can do accounting in any field, be it health, transport, government departments, or in a public policy unit, yet the skills needed to do such accounting are always located in business and commerce faculties. Why can’t monitoring and evaluation find a home in a social science faculty or under public policy? Most programmes that are implemented, monitored and evaluated are aimed at implementing a policy – be it in public administration, health, nutrition, agriculture or transport or even in the private sector. Even if courses such as statistics or project management, for instance, are borrowed from other departments, it does not mean the entire field belongs there.

    What is clear is that, the debate is far from settled and that it can greatly benefit from further exploration of the critical dimensions underpinning it. AfrEA can be a custodian and for example offer platform for such initiatives; the role of AfrEA should not only be an umbrella body that organises biennial conference for the continent, but also include advocating for certain positions, or promoting conversations in an ongoing manner. African universities and institutions need spaces to share ideas on which basic curriculum will lead to generating the appropriate capacity that Africa needs to match the demand for evaluation. Rather than we adopting curricula from elsewhere, which is not engineered to solve our African problem, African institutions need to become custodians of our own contextualised monitoring and evaluation paradigms. This can then be further localised into the various regions to tackle localised regional dimensions.

    — MacCarthy Honu-Siabi, CLEAR-AA

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