What's New

Innovative developments in the Monitoring and Evaluation of Social Change Communication

There is widespread dissatisfaction with Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) practice in the development sector, for a variety of reasons. This is increasingly fuelling interest in less known, more innovative approaches that can complement what has become entrenched mainstream thinking and practice. Frustration is commonly expressed by diverse development actors, including: fieldworkers who feel that dominant practice does not serve their own needs for learning and programme improvement, does not adequately capture their achievements and strengths and does not reflect a realistic timeframe for sustainable development; policy makers and donors who feel that M&E practice remains weak and fails to adequately demonstrate impact; by researchers concerned with quality, appropriateness, wider dissemination and learning, and others.


While there are examples of sound practice, the need to strengthen M&E and related capacity is widely acknowledged internationally, across sectors. This includes better documentation of innovative practice and case stories. While our focus is the M&E of HIV/AIDS programmes, the work has far wider relevance.


Characteristics of the HIV/AIDS field and related initiatives pose particular challenges to M&E. They are typically concerned with complex, multi-faceted programmes that seek to tackle a wide variety of inter-connected elements. These include deeply held socio-cultural beliefs and practices, issues of poverty, gender and other inequalities etc.


Yet recent reviews highlight how evaluations of HIV/AIDS initiatives to date are overwhelmingly dominated by an individual behavioural orientation, while very few target social, policy or structural factors. The growing attention to wider social, cultural and structural factors that drive new HIV infections highlights the need to progress beyond traditional evaluation designs and draw on approaches that map changes in complex systems and social networks. This scenario raises significant questions about dominant M&E thinking and practice.


The Consortium's Response


These challenges spurred the Consortium's interest to work with UNAIDS and others organization on the M&E of social change communication (SCC). Many organisations need support now, conceptually and practically, to strengthen the evaluation of SCC. Like others, the Consortium has long advocated for more appropriate, more participatory and innovative approaches to the M&E of CFSC. Our own experience and active membership in networks of others who share commitment to strengthening M&E thinking and practice, continues to highlight a wealth of relevant experience to learn from. This comes from diverse fields including complexity thinking, systems thinking, participatory development and others. We are keen to draw on this learning to fuel positive developments in M&E.


We focused on the implications of a more comprehensive and framework for the M&E of SCC. Outcomes from the meeting are feeding into a paper currently being written, which will provide an informed basis for activities to follow. These include a high-level meeting (likely latein 2009) that will bring together leading players in UN agencies and select bilaterals, leading INGOs and others, to consider how to practically take forward the proposed M&E framework and ideas, specifically in relation to SCC in the HIV/AIDS field. This is expected to be followed by piloting of the recommended M&E processes and frameworks in select countries.


With an applied focus, our aims are:

  • To highlight the potential and value of "innovative” (i.e. non mainstream) approaches to M&E, within a Social Change Communication paradigm.
  • To develop a preliminary more comprehensive M&E framework that will complement existing ones.
  • To offer practical guidelines and recommendations for the M&E of SCC, both generically and specifically within an HIV/AIDS context.
  • To help secure legitimacy for a wider range of evaluation approaches and methods.

Towards this end, the Brighton meeting highlighted the need to focus on the “bigger pictureand deeper, underlying evaluation questions, rather than methods per se, I.e. on the whole, in specific contexts. Among others, the potential and relevance of developments in the following fields and areas were highlighted: complexity thinking; systems thinking; Social Network Analysis, large system action research. We put much thought into diverse ways of effectively reaching different key audiences. With an applied focus we considered the merits of developmental evaluation (for learning, programme improvement and multiple-accountability) and emphasised the need to ensure consistency between underlying programme aims and values and those of their evaluation. Complex interventions and emergent outcomes call for complex and flexible evaluation designs, in appreciation that paths to success are variable and largely unpredictable.




To read more about the Brighton meeting report, click here. Check out our Current Projects to view the papers of Rick Davies on Social Network Analysis and David Byrne on Working within a Complexit Frame of Reference.


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