Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

CSA programme and project monitoring and evaluation

Enabling Frameworks

Monitoring and evaluation for climate-smart agriculture: scope, purposes, frameworks and concepts

C9 - 1.1 Defining monitoring and evaluation for climate-smart agriculture

The overall goal of assessments, and monitoring and evaluation activities is to effectively guide the transition of sound climate-smart agriculture policies into climate-smart agriculture programmes that are successfully implemented on the ground. 

Climate change is likely to have the most severe impacts on groups that are already coping with food insecurity and vulnerable to shocks. Interventions must focus on understanding and addressing the needs and aspirations of these groups and ensure that they are included in decision-making processes. Assessments, monitoring and evaluation must pay particular attention to these vulnerable groups and be accountable to them. 

Traditionally, programme and project monitoring predominantly deals with tracking progress and intermediate results, and making adjustments during the project’s implementation. Evaluation primarily deals with the assessment of results and impacts. Expectations for these results and impacts need to be set out clearly at the beginning of a project. They are of particular concern towards the end of projects and programmes. Also, monitoring and evaluation processes should not be isolated from learning processes. For the programme and project to remain flexible, all three processes are necessary.

Monitoring and evaluation are not completely separable, but they are two distinct activities. They need to be linked to understand causes and effects of different actions. Both are concerned, to different degrees, with tracking progress and change. Both are concerned with ensuring upwards and downwards accountability for results to a range of stakeholders. They both require participation by stakeholders to generate, analyse and verify information. Evaluative thinking and reflection is also important during implementation. 

Adaptive management and learning are processes undertaken in response to changing external conditions or internal changes in the project's operations. These processes, which involve self-reflection, depend on good monitoring and evaluation. This is particularly relevant when strengthening system-wide capacities for climate-smart agriculture at the national level (see module C1 on system-wide capacity development). Project and programme goals, strategies and indicators are formulated based on their relevance, effectiveness, feasibility and other factors. The learning process is strengthened at the evaluation stage when important issues are identified and lessons are drawn to improve the way interventions are implemented. However, to steer the project to meaningful ends, evaluative thinking should ideally be applied on an ongoing basis during the project by all participants. Evaluation-based learning also offers lessons for future interventions and policies, and, by following participatory learning processes, helps enhance local capacities. 

Given the complexity of climate change and climate-smart agriculture interventions, adaptive management and learning become even more important and perhaps indispensable. With climate change, considerable uncertainty exists regarding what the actual (versus the predicted) impacts of climate change will be in a given agricultural system. Weather patterns and their effects will change continuously during and beyond the life of a project. Smallholder agricultural producers and supporting institutions will be forced to adapt not just once but constantly. Knowledge on successful adaptation and mitigation practices in the agricultural sectors is dependent upon learning by doing under changing conditions. For these reasons and others, climate change and the efforts to address it present situations of complexity for smallholder producers and development organizations. In some cases, the impacts of climate change have been unexpected, and there are often no known responses to them in a given locale. Also, many factors are involved in driving theses changes, and often they are in dynamic relationships with one another. There are often several pathways climate-smart agriculture interventions can pursue to reach their objectives, and they often involve multiple sectors. Both positive and negative changes can be non-linear, with tipping points being reached at unexpected times. As a consequence, simple linear logic models based on knowable and predictable results may have their limits for project planning and monitoring and evaluation. The challenge of climate change demands an adaptive management approach that involves constant innovation, real-time monitoring and evaluation, learning among stakeholders and re-strategizing. Over the course of the project, it may even require making changes in what is being measured. Developmental evaluation, as this module explains, is a potential way to both assess how interventions fare in situations of complexity, and to support their adaptive management on an ongoing basis.

Experience has shown that throughout the planning, monitoring and evaluation and learning processes it is important to apply participatory, gender-sensitive approaches and methods to increase the involvement of beneficiaries and stakeholders and foster continuous country ownership and commitment. This is particularly important when enhancing system-wide capacities for climate-smart agriculture. Implementing these participatory approaches can be a prolonged process and can incur costs. However, if it is done well, the greater range of information gathered and the improved validation of the results will often more than compensate for the extra time and expense. In addition, participatory approaches give stakeholders a greater sense of ownership of the results and can strengthen their adaptive capacity (see module C1 on system-wide capacity development). For climate-smart agriculture interventions, participatory monitoring and evaluation becomes essential as it is needed to receive feedback from the intended beneficiaries on the innovations that have been proposed to improve adaptation, mitigation and livelihood in situations of uncertainty and change; refine or change these practices over time; and build knowledge on what interventions might work for a given locale or agricultural system.

C9 - 1.2 Overview of the cycle for climate-smart agriculture policies, programmes and projects

Climate-smart agriculture assessments are addressed in module C8 on climate impact assessments and appraisals of climate-smart agriculture options. They are dealt with in this chapter only in relation to monitoring and evaluation activities. These activities, which are integral parts of climate-smart agriculture project cycles, are critical for providing inputs and guidance to broader policies and programmes, and for articulating the rationale for the selection of specific climate-smart options in the design of programmes and projects. Any assessment of policies needs to be interlinked with a broader system-wide capacity assessment that includes individual, organizational and institutional stakeholders for more sustainable results (see module C1 on system-wide capacity development). National planning is dealt with in more detail in module C10. Figure C9.1 shows where assessment, monitoring and evaluation activities occur through the policy and programme cycle in relation to the five steps of the planning process: conceptualization, preparation, appraisal and approval, implementation, and evaluation. The latter three steps form a project cycle in a narrow sense. The cycle is embedded in policies and programmes through assessment, monitoring and evaluation activities. 

Assessments for policy and project design usually take place ex-ante. They are conducted mainly in the conceptualization and preparation steps of planning. Climate impact assessments, climate-smart agriculture options appraisals and baseline projections are illustrated in Figure C9.1. Based on the assessments, the climate-smart agriculture options to be implemented are selected. 

In parallel with the broader programme and policy cycle, baseline projections should be revised periodically, and the long-term impacts of project interventions should be evaluated some time after the project ends. 

Figure C9.1. The scope of assessment, monitoring and evaluation for CSA within a project cycle and broader policies and programmes

Assessment, monitoring and evaluation start at the preparation stage, and are followed by project appraisal and approval. Monitoring of project interventions takes place throughout project implementation. At the mid-project cycle and at the end of the project, the evaluation of the impacts of interventions becomes more important. There is more emphasis on evidence-based measurement of the actual impacts of implemented activities. Evaluation of impacts at the end of a project will feed into long-term evaluation. Feedback from evaluation of projects may modify policies and programmes.

C9 - 1.3 Importance of monitoring and evaluation for climate-smart agriculture programmes and projects

Monitoring and evaluation, together with learning and adaptive management, can contribute to the achievement of national climate change mitigation and adaptation goals. Detailed monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions can be part of the accounting requirements within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Monitoring and evaluation are key to understanding changes in adaptation as a result of programme interventions.

Monitoring and evaluation are critical for ensuring climate-smart agriculture interventions are implemented properly and achieve the desired outcomes. Evaluations can also identify shortcomings and lessons for future policies and programmes. During the implementation stage, it is essential to monitor progress and identify successes and problems in climate-smart agriculture interventions, be they pilot initiatives, projects or programmes. This monitoring will verify whether activities are meeting the objectives of climate-smart agriculture and project milestones in a way that satisfies efficiency standards. It will also facilitate the adjustment of activities in the face of uncertainties. 

Monitoring and evaluation plans refine the indicators from the policy and project design assessments. The combination of primary data collected through various methods and analyses constitutes the evidence base that describes baseline situation at the start of the project. Climate-smart agriculture activities carried out within the project can also be prioritized using information from climate-smart agriculture options assessments.

Within the project or programme, monitoring and evaluation promotes accountability to different stakeholders and ensures the sound use of human and financial resources. Effective monitoring and evaluation, which helps improve the design of future climate-smart agriculture interventions and stakeholders’ decision-making, are part of a long-term learning process. Evaluations of programmes and projects that set out to strengthen climate-smart agriculture practices, should contribute to expanding the knowledge base and deepen the scientific basis for climate-smart agriculture. An example of thus type of contribution can be found in the syntheses analyses of large numbers of studies that has been done by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) (see Rosenstock et al., 2016). 

A well-designed evaluation can help provide a response to a common question when assessing results: to what degree is it possible to attribute results to a project intervention rather than to other external causes? For example, from the indicators in the table below, the adoption of climate-smart forest technologies may be the result of other forest programmes, or market forces; and the proportion of people living below the poverty line may be due to migration and wider economic forces. To overcome this attribution challenge, robust evaluation methods are needed when setting baselines and making impact evaluations of project interventions.