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Interview with Frannie Léautier, Executive Secretary, African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF)
The African Development Bank celebrated 25 years of monitoring and evaluation work in early December. Frannie Léautier, current Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), brought her expertise to the Bank as the institution ratified its monitoring and evaluation reforms.
A Tanzanian national, Léautier has a rich wealth of experience gained at the World Bank, where she served as Vice-President of the World Bank and head of the World Bank Institute from December 2001 to March 2007. Léautier also served as Chief of Staff to the former President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, from 2000-2001.
Why is monitoring and evaluation so important in development work?
You know Einstein made a statement answering that question: You get what you measure and if you don’t measure, you won’t be able to achieve results. I think the heart of evaluation is in understanding what you have accomplished, so that you can scale up what has been successful and learn from what has not worked. After 25 years, it gives a good opportunity to look at what has worked and what hasn’t, but also what have we been doing to learn from what has worked and what hasn’t. So the time spent here reflecting on these issues has been very important.
When we talk about evaluation and its different methodologies, adapting them specifically to an African context, what are the key elements we should keep in mind today, knowing what we know?
The first thing is to know that information, knowledge and ideas reside everywhere and that there are people out there who know what needs to be done, but are not always linked up in the system of implementation. So the first is to observe and scan very widely and identify those who would have value added in being asked about what is happening and what needs to be done. The second is to make sure that analytical work, data work and research is put in a form that can be understood by key decision-makers who don’t have time to read long reports or look at complicated analysis. So put in a bite-sized usable format that can be used by the politician, the busy decision-maker, as well as the regular citizen. And the third thing is to create networks of people who can learn together so that the successful ideas, that have been used in evaluation somewhere else for instance, can be brought to bear in a local situation and add value quickly, so we can speed up the chance of discovery and achieving results. And the last thing is of course ensuring that enough effort and financial resources [are available] in monitoring and evaluation. It should not be done at the last minute, but at the start of a project, at the design phase or at the strategic phase, when a country is thinking of developing a new strategy or when you are looking at the financing. It would make sense and is necessary for a bilateral or multilateral institution.
Donor countries are often concerned about the transparency of M&E, and worry about the possibility of a corrupt process. How do you make sure that people trust monitoring processes and evaluation results?
I think trusting the result of evaluation is the most important thing we have to focus on and you can do that in three ways. First, by making sure the scientific or analytical method used for evaluation is without question, so people cannot quibble on the methodology. Secondly, to give independence to the evaluator so that they cannot be influenced by political or other factors that would change the way they see the result. And the third factor is ensuring proper delivery and dissemination of the evaluation outcome so that the message is not changed along the way. If you guarantee those three things, there will be trust in the evaluated results and you have a longer term of dependency on the evaluation to use it in decision-making.
What do you think should be the focus of the African Development Bank as it moves ahead with implementing its monitoring and evaluation reforms?
I think the AfDB has chosen to do things that are quite unique: such as supporting a network of evaluations made in Africa that uses local expertise and local ways of doing things, but also supporting a network of evaluators across Africa that could help them improve – not only learn from each other, but also get that independence that will give the trust we have just talked about. I think two other things the Bank can do is to engage much more in the different levels of evaluation, to build bridges between individual skills and how organizations are held accountable, and also to build a culture of learning across the board in terms of development questions, whether for the Bank itself or for its regional and country partners. The second thing that would be very helpful is that the wonderful work that has been done over the past 25 years and the lessons learned from that can be put in formats that people can understand and use, whether it’s the daily Tweet on lessons learned in development, or a blog where people can interact and share ideas – even through YouTube and other methods – so that people can have access to this wonderful work that has been done over 25 years. I think these would be two additional things I would suggest for the Bank.