At data monitoring stations along the Tana river, RFS is working with the Kenya Water Resources Authority to collect and analyse data. © Roshni Lodhia, The Nature Conservancy.

The challenge of monitoring resilience: How RFS accommodates diversity within the programme's M&E system

As one of three GEF Integrated Approach Pilots, the RFS programme is developing and applying innovative approaches for monitoring resilience across a large, diverse programme.

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate.  So much so that the pace and depth of change often outstrip our ability to adapt. This is especially true in developing countries where rapid change intersects with the realities of limited resources.

Developing countries face pressures from many different directions. Climate change, globalisation, urbanisation, technological shifts and, most recently, Covid-19 continue to alter how we organise society, generate value, distribute resources, interact with each other and with nature. In Africa, these pressures exist within the context of poverty, food insecurity, overburdened health and education systems and, in many cases, conflict.

In response to these pressures, we often call for "increased resilience" – of food systems, health systems, livelihoods, infrastructure, and environments. In the last decade, the demands on government to integrate concepts of resilience into strategies and action plans and invest in activities to build resilience have grown.

When the Resilient Food Systems (RFS) programme was designed, centring a programme around "resilience" was a novel approach with its own set of challenges. Resilience is a broad concept, with various definitions and applications across sectors and geographies. How could such a diverse programme define and measure improvements in resilience across 12 different countries?

From the start, the programme decided against a "one size fits all" model. To ensure a country-led approach, implementing agencies and governments were asked to adopt resilience indicators that were best suited to their work on the ground and specific circumstances.

Working under the scope of the programme's Technical Advisory Group on Monitoring and Assessment, the Regional Hub project, led by IFAD, prepared guidance for monitoring ecosystems services, socioeconomic benefit and the resilience of food security.

Through several M&E-focused sessions organised within the context of annual programme workshops, specialised training and one-on-one support, the Regional Hub introduced country project teams to and trained stakeholders in several approaches, tools and frameworks for monitoring resilience, including Outcome Mapping, Resilience Atlas, SHARP+, the new DATAR web portal and app and, most recently, participatory videos. Each country has integrated the concepts and tools that best suit the project's needs, but no single approach has been imposed across the whole programme.

As a result, the RFS country project teams were supported in the pursuit of unique approaches to monitoring resilience that reflected their context and objectives.

Yet, these projects are all part of a broader programme. To track country project progress toward programme targets and global commitments (for example, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Land Degradation Neutrality targets), it was essential to create enough alignment to tell a cohesive story about the impact of the programme as a whole.          

To build coherence out of this diversity, the Regional Hub has been responsible for establishing a programme-wide M&E framework for tracking GEF 7 core indicators and the programme's overall outcomes.

The programme-wide M&E workshop in Nairobi in November 2019 was a significant milestone in this effort. Led by ICRAF, through the Programme Coordination Unit, this harmonisation has required consistent, collaborative engagement with country projects and Regional Hub partners to establish linkages between project- and programme-level M&E and broader GEF monitoring frameworks. This work recently included the transition of RFS projects to the new core indicators and sub-indicators established under the GEF-7 replenishment.

This work has culminated in the new RFS M&E plan, a document that outlines the overall architecture of the M&E system, which rests on two pillars: country-level M&E and programme-level M&E. The plan provides an overview of the regional-level results framework and a strategy for how programme-wide information will be stored, documented, and shared online through the SmartME platform.

"The results framework has been considerably enhanced through this constant dialogue between country project and the partner agencies," said RFS M&E Officer Sasha Mentz-Lagrange in a recent interview. "It wouldn't have the current quality and granularity that it has if we hadn't had this bottom-up approach." 

The regional, programmatic M&E results framework emanates directly from the aggregation of results achieved at the country level. This bottom-up approach helps accommodate the diversity of contexts, interventions, and indicators within each of the country projects. "The framework is reinforced by what is happening on the ground,” said Ms Mentz-Lagrange.

This approach to M&E remains one of the critical innovations of RFS. The programme walks the line between respecting heterogeneity and acknowledging the need to form a cohesive story out of these various country experiences. We hope that the common threads that run through these experiences will contribute to broader conversations about the resilience of food systems in Africa and the developing world. 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive updates on stories directly from the field across all our projects, upcoming events, new resources, and more.