Monitoring and Evaluation: A pending issue in public management
The main ideas of the book Building Effective Governments are that all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, regardless of their size and socioeconomic development, have undertaken reforms to implement results-based management; that the greatest achievements are found in the strengthening of planning; and that the biggest challenges consist of building and/or improving institutional capacity for monitoring and evaluating public management.
Data from the study not only indicate that monitoring and evaluation show low scores in most countries, but also that the difference between those that have built capacity in this area and those that have not is greater in this area than in the other areas studied, as illustrated in the chart below. Now, considering that the use of monitoring and evaluation constitutes what is perhaps the biggest difference between results-based and traditional management—if results are not measured they cannot be “managed”—the red line reflects the actual MfDR status of countries in the region. This leads to the question: Will this gap persist until other systems have been consolidated?
We believe the answer is no. With the right political determination, it is possible to build basic mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the governments’ strategic priorities. Now, as before, several small countries with limited institutional capacity have successfully undertaken such initiatives, as attested by the monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals.
In our opinion, the main difficulty is not the starting point, but the persistence and continuity of the processes. In fact, a review of the initiatives that sought to implement M&E systems during the last three decades shows that many countries undertook such processes but only a few sustained their efforts (Chile and Colombia). However, some of the management systems in the public sector show greater persistence. For example, the public financial management systems are stronger today than in the late 20th century. So, what are the reasons for this lack of persistence in monitoring and evaluation? Our study provides a few clues:
- No incentives have been established to measure performance. On the contrary, in some cases there are incentives for not measuring it, such as the incremental budget allocation.
- There is an institutional culture of skepticism towards evaluation.
- Monitoring analyses and evaluation studies are not used to increase institutional knowledge and to improve performance, whether because of inappropriate communication of results or for fear of making the findings public.
These clues suggest that, in addition to working on the aspects normally considered during the implementation of monitoring and evaluation systems, such as methodologies and IT systems, it is important to remove the barriers that hinder their operation (norms, instruments, habits, perceptions) and to communicate the benefits they will bring about. Learning new things is as important as de-learning old things.