By Rob van Tulder, Academic Director, Partnerships Resource Centre
The partnering process is a delicate affair. One of the most important factors that influences that dynamic is how the partners organise their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) processes. This includes both the performance (value added) of the partnerships, and also the ultimate impact of the partnership.
Measuring the impact of a partnership is far harder than measuring performance. Impact measurement is often frustrated by the fact that it is often done retrospectively, or it is put in the hands of external parties, or it is used as a control measure to keep parties accountable.
Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) questions check the performance of the partnership, but do not always address the ‘elephant in the room’: can the partnership actually have animpact on the problem that lies at the source of any SDG?
The way in which M&E is used in partnerships does not live up to the ability to capture the impact of the partnership, let alone its additionality. M&E is often used to control rather than to guide, to hold each other accountable rather than to learn. And as such often create the illusion of exactness by introducing all sorts of metrics that do not really capture the dynamics of the partnership.
In order to address these problems, and inspired by the struggles and lessons from M&E experiences in other fields, PRC has developed the idea of creating a dedicated ‘Impact team’ for partnerships. The intention is to develop a tool to stimulate the set-up of competent M&E systems through the establishment of an Impact Team.
This team would consist of partnership participants, who are prompted to ask ‘learning questions’ in various phases of the partnership. By doing this, the Impact Team becomes a source of joint learning, which in the end can enhance the partnership and enable it to re-adjust the process if needed. Together, partnership practitioners ‘tick off’ these guiding questions during the design of their M&E system, when they feel the questions have been sufficiently addressed.
We also found that, while the ultimate impact question of partnering processes always remains difficult to address, there are three spheres, or ‘impact loops’ within which impact can be assessed. These three impact loops relate to individuals; to partnering organisations; and the partnering entity itself.
By covering these critical dimensions, the Impact Team not only documents progress at various levels of the organisation, but can actually become a source of interventions during partnering processes. A draft tool has been created by the PrC to help partnerships create Impact Teams, though it is far from finished. If you have experience of partnering M&E and would like to know more about PrC’s tool, please click here for a full discussion paper; or contact us for more information.