Once a year I have the privilege of teaching a seminar on monitoring and evaluation in conflict-affected environments at the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU), University of York. It means that I get to spend three hours with a bunch of highly intelligent and motivated MA students from a diverse range of backgrounds, but all united by their insatiable thirst for knowledge and passion for making a difference to the lives of those living in conflict.
This year, I was invited to kick off the final module of the course on planning and managing reconstruction programmes, giving the students a lively and interactive introduction to the challenges of measurement in peacebuilding and humanitarian work. After an introduction setting the scene for why monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is so important in conflict-affected contexts, the students then got stuck into a group exercise thinking through some of the most critical challenges to successful M&E – from insecurity to data reliability to methodological bias – as well as approaches to overcoming them. A great opportunity to show off their skills and knowledge from their own research and practical experience!
We then had an in-depth discussion on the benefits and pitfalls of using a theory of change approach in conflict environments. Although very few of the students had any practical experience of using theories of change, this proved a popular session and led to some really insightful questions and ideas around building mechanisms for learning and critical reflection into programme design. This was followed by a final session on approaches to evaluating peacebuilding and humanitarian programmes, which looked in particular at different conceptions of impact and the importance of using conflict analysis in peacebuilding evaluation to understand the effects of an intervention on the drivers of conflict.
Finally, the students got the chance to put the theory into practice (and I got to sit back and let the students do all the hard work!), breaking out into groups to design their own outline M&E strategy. They grappled with constructing a basic intervention logic for a real-life programme, defining outcome and output indicators as well as data collection methods and sources. The group presentations were really impressive and I could tell that already some of the students had caught the M&E bug!
I left York, as I do every year, feeling really excited and invigorated. Not just because it’s a great opportunity for me to escape the constant churn of report writing and share my knowledge and experiences with the next generation of development experts, but also as it’s such a pleasure to spend time debating some of the most important issues in my field with a group of sharp, young minds! Thanks to Ken, Jacob and everyone at PRDU and I’m already looking forward to coming back next year!