What is a national M&E system

A national monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system can be understood as a number of connected systems for generating and using evidence to inform decisions in the public sector.

This means that a national M&E system may include some systems that relate only to monitoring, some only to evaluation, and some that deal with monitoring and evaluation together or alongside other functions such as review, research or learning (for example, in a system which encompasses MERL – Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning).

These terms are often used in different ways. Generally, monitoring refers to ongoing processes, whereas evaluation is more episodic. Both monitoring and evaluation explicitly combine empirical evidence with explicit values about what is considered valuable (for example, targets, goals, needs, rights or principles). In contrast, research often focuses on describing how things are or how things work. The term review is sometimes used to refer to a less formal type of evaluation that is not subject to the usual formal requirements regarding process. Learning, in terms of a MEL or MERL system, includes individual learning, reflected in changes in individual decisions, as well as organisational learning, reflected in changes in procedures, resource allocation and policies.

There may be different organisational centres for these different systems. For example, monitoring systems are often connected to reporting in terms of performance targets or national development plan objectives and are overseen centrally by a Department of Finance. Centralised evaluation systems are often involved in developing and implementing a national policy and plan in collaboration with line ministries and are often overseen centrally by a unit located in the Office of the President or Prime Minister. Systems for generating and reporting national and sub-national statistics are usually overseen by a national statistics office.

A national M&E system includes different levels of government – national, sub-national (state, province, county), and local (municipal or district). Sometimes, the sub-national or local M&E systems are prescribed or overseen by the national M&E system, and sometimes, they are independently managed and governed but still connected. It also includes non-government M&E systems, including their structures and processes to generate, use and report evidence to support decision-making.

The different M&E systems that make up the national M&E system can be based on different definitions and conceptual frameworks of M&E, different emphases in terms of what is seen as the goals, purposes, and intended uses of M&E and different views about what is seen as appropriate roles and responsibilities, structures and participation for different government and non-government actors.

A national M&E system includes tangible structures, products and processes, such as policies, guidelines, plans, databases, reporting systems, and training programs. It also includes the broader ecosystem around M&E – the attitudes, incentives, constraints, skills, knowledge and behaviours that affect how M&E is done and used.

Key government actors in national M&E systems can include national coordinating bodies (such as a national evaluation council), central agencies (such as finance ministries, office of the president, prime minister or cabinet, treasury, and national planning departments), central evaluation agencies, line ministries, parliamentary committees, audit offices, and national statistics offices.

Key actors outside government can include professional associations related to M&E, including Voluntary Organisations for Professional Evaluation (VOPEs) such as national evaluation associations and societies, other relevant professional associations, policy analysis units or think tanks, academic and research institutions including universities, NGOs and civil society organisations, development partners such as development banks, UN agencies and bilateral development agencies, public communication and dissemination units, the media, political parties, and ethics and research review boards.

The information about national M&E systems presented on this knowledge platform is organised around four elements:

  1. The enabling environment – the contextual factors that influence the supply and demand for M&E
  2. Organisational capacities – the resources, processes and systems within organisations to generate and use M&E
  3. Individual capacities – the resources of individuals to generate and use M&E, especially in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes
  4. Tools and techniques for strengthening capacity – the specific processes, including using diagnostics, developing capacity-strengthening plans and supporting learning in different formats

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