Monitoring, evaluation, reflection, and learning: Transforming M&E into reflexive learning and adaptive management within restoration

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Karen Kotschy

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Restoration programs in complex social-ecological systems face a conundrum in terms of monitoring and evaluation (M&E). On the one hand they need to report to donors or higher-level structures using indicators and targets. However, targets are notoriously difficult to set because of the unpredictability inherent in these contexts, so people ‘play the game of numbers’ and approach M&E as a quantitative tick-box exercise which does not encourage learning or, even worse, is met with resentment. Despite good intentions, M&E systems often end up being focused on accountability or compliance at the expense of learning. In this talk we present our experiences with transforming M&E to enable, rather than stifle, learning and adaptive management within restoration practice in the Olifants and Tsitsa catchments in South Africa. Innovations include the use of mixed modalities (including quantitative and qualitative monitoring, case-based evaluations, and conceptual work), promoting ongoing reflection through multiple means (including reporting processes and various kinds of learning events), and linking ongoing learning to planning processes so as to build in change as appropriate. We conclude that it is not only specific features of the M&E design that enable learning, but also the disposition of the people who animate the system. Our work provides evidence for the value of adequately resourcing the monitoring, evaluation, reflection, and learning function at catchment or landscape levels – to support scientists and managers to expand their roles, develop new relationships, participate in sense-making and engage in transformative social learning.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program

Society for Ecological Restoration