Planning, Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation

The Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (ML&E) system of CCAFS provides practical mechanisms and tools to ensure balanced quantitative and qualitative monitoring. The system is made up of a forthcoming set of modules (see illustration), elaborated in an online ML&E Support Pack.

The CCAFS Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (ML&E) strategy is intended to promote an evaluative culture. It was implemented to support Phase II of the CCAFS program, up until 2025.  

It adopts a results-based management (RBM) approach and supports a culture of reflective learning, experimentation, and adaptive management; ensuring that ML&E becomes an integrated mechanism throughout the program.

The RBM approach helps to build logical chains of transformation in which projects produce tangible outputs in support of desired outcomes. These outcomes include changes in practices, skills and behaviour of researchers, policy makers, national extension services, farmers and other user groups.

Other key elements of the CCAFS ML&E strategy are:  

  • Focusing on users, utilization of ML&E and accountability: We want the ML&E system to be user- and utilization-focused, ensuring that when we invest in ML&E measures it is for a specific purpose and audience.
  • Adaptive management. A strategic approach to deal with a constantly changing environment is required, which entails built-in reflection and learning. ML&E and flexibility to implement corrective actions when required is needed to strengthen predictive capacity.
  • Allowing blurred boundaries. By proposing an integrated ML&E system, linkages are created with a number of other areas, including social and organizational learning, knowledge management, communications, data- and information management. In bringing together so many different areas, there is a need to ensure that work is complimentary, collaborative and value-adding.

Strategic partner: Statistical Services Centre, Reading University, UK

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At the programmatic level, CCAFS implements baselines in all its core sites; starting in South Asia, West Africa and East Africa in 2010–11 and continuing with the new sites in Latin America and Southeast Asia in 2014–15. The main aim is to monitor key behavior and practice changes over time. In the case of the CCAFS baselines, however, the goal is not to attribute changes to a particular intervention. Instead, the studies simply observe the changes and gauge whether farmers’ resilience is rising or falling. This will help to prioritize future research, and will also support partner relationships. Partners and colleagues from other organizations are working alongside CCAFS at all the survey sites, and all are part of the big picture of research for development. Thinking in terms of contribution, rather than attribution, is key.

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Impact pathways

A results-based management approach guides CCAFS overall research for development work. This approach means using an impact pathway (IP), built on a theory of change, emphasising and visualising the contribution of research outputs towards development outcomes, accompanied by a learning, monitoring and evaluation system. The impact pathways for each CCAFS Region and Flagship Program outline plausible pathways of how research outputs will contribute to development outcomes from local to global levels, as well as which partnerships are needed to deliver on set outcomes. Outcomes refer to changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and most importantly practices in next-users, the people who directly use research results and products. These can include policy-makers, development organisations or international research institutions. Next-users have the ability to create an environment that ensures impact reach end-users such as smallholder farmers.

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There is great potential for social learning and related approaches to make research for development initiatives more effective, while supporting attainment of development outcomes. This is particularly true of research that tackles complex socio-ecological challenges, such as the nexus where climate change, agriculture and food security meet. CCAFS understands social learning to be a facilitated process of planning, implementing, reflecting and adapting. Learning goes beyond the individual, as diverse stakeholders arrive at collective solutions to complex challenges. Social learning approaches also aim to establish trust and cooperation, leading to greater ownership, support and sustainable behavior change.

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