Learning from Change: Issues and Experiences in Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

M Estrella


Since the 1980s concepts of participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E) have entered the policy-making domain of larger donor agencies and development organisations. This introductory chapter from Learning from Change: Issues and Experiences in Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation draws on twelve case studies to describe how different stakeholders have applied PM&E approaches across a range of purposes and contexts. It outlines some of the key concepts and differences between participatory and conventional approaches to M&E and highlights some emerging issues.

The conventional ‘top-down’ and ‘objective’ approach to M&E which excludes many stakeholders has led to dissatisfaction in the international development community. Growing interest in PM&E is a reflection of several emerging trends: ‘performance based accountability’; increasing fund scarcity and pressure to demonstrate success; and the shift towards decentralised and devolved governance requiring new forms of oversight. Meanwhile, the increasing capacity and experience of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) as decision-makers and implementers in the development process provide additional impetus. Across a varied range of PM&E methods, four common features of good practice are identifiable: participation, learning, negotiation and flexibility.

There are four key stages in establishing the PM&E process – planning the framework and determining objectives and indicators; gathering data; analysing and using data by action-taking; and documenting, reporting and sharing information. The critical feature of a PM&E approach is its emphasis on who measures change and who benefits from learning about these changes.  Stakeholders directly involved in a programme take part in selecting indicators, collecting information and evaluating findings. Negotiating and resolving different stakeholders’ needs in order to make collaborative decisions remains a critical question in building the process.  PM&E provides information to meet different stakeholder needs and objectives:

  • Project planning and implementation – Have project objectives been met? How have resources been used?
  • Organisational strengthening and institutional learning – This involves enabling NGOs, CBOs and people’s organisations to keep track of progress, build on areas of successful work and develop sustainability. Enabling local stakeholders to measure institutional performance fosters social accountability and responsiveness.
  • Informing policy – Where local communities are empowered to communicate local needs, these may be compared against local government development priorities.

By encouraging stakeholder participation beyond data-gathering, PM&E is about promoting self-reliance in decision-making and problem-solving, strengthening people’s capacities to take action and promote change. Whilst some common guidelines are emerging which help define how PM&E is established and implemented, several issues require further exploration:

  • Clarifying concepts of participation – There remains great ambiguity in defining who stakeholders are and to what extent they should be involved, overall, and at different stages of the process.
  • Identifying appropriate methodologies – Procedures for indicator development are not always clear when incorporating differing stakeholders’ needs and priorities. The more context-specific information obtained in PM&E approaches is perceived as ‘subjective’. The question remains whether it is therefore less rigorous.
  • Developing capacity building – There is recognition that PM&E requires considerable time, financial investment and human resources, but little documentation to identify the necessary requirements to build and sustain PM&E over time.   What types of skills, knowledge, attitudinal and behavioural changes are required to conduct PM&E?
  • Scaling up PM&E and promoting institutional learning – Can PM&E be built into the standard operating procedures of formal institutions?


Estrella, M., 2000, 'Learning from Change', in Learning from Change: Issues and Experiences in Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation, ed. M. Estrella, Intermediate Technology Publications and the International Development Research Centre, London and Ottawa