Dealing with complexity through “actor-focused” Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation (PME)

From results-based management  towards results-based learning
Jan Van Ongevalle (HIVA), Huib Huyse (HIVA), Cristien Temmink (PSO), Eugenia Boutylkova (PSO), Anneke Maarse (Double Loop)
November 2012. Available as pdf

This document is the final output of the PSO Thematic Learning Programme (TLP) on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (PME) of Complex Processes of Social Change, facilitated and funded by PSO, Netherlands and supported by HIVA (Belgium).

1. Introduction

This paper reports the results of a collaborative action-research process (2010-2012) in which 10 development organisations (nine Dutch and one Belgian), together with their  Southern partners, explored if and how a variety of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation  (PME) approaches and methods helped them  deal with processes of complex change. These  approaches include Outcome Mapping (OM),  Most Significant Change (MSC), Sensemaker,  client-satisfaction instruments, personal-goal  exercises, outcome studies, and scorecards.

The study has been supported by PSO, an  association of Dutch development organisations that supports capacity-development  processes. The Research Institute for Work and Society (HIVA) at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) provided methodological support.

The collaborative-action research took place on two interconnected levels. At the first level, individual organisations engaged in their own action-research processes in order to address their organisation-specific PME challenges. At a collective level, we wanted to draw lessons from across the individual cases. The overall aim was to find out if and how the various PME approaches piloted in the cases had helped the organisations and their partners to deal with complex change processes. We tried to answer this question by exploring how the PME approaches assisted the pilot cases to deal with the following four implications of PME in complexity: 1) dealing with multiple relations and perspectives; 2) learn about the results of the programme; 3) strengthen adaptive capacity;  and 4) satisfy different accountability needs.  These four questions constitute the main analytic framework of the action research.

A PME approach in this paper refers to the PME methods, tools and concepts and the way they are implemented within a specific context of a programme or organisation. A PME approach also encompasses the underlying values, principles and agenda that come with its methods, tools and concepts. A PME system refers to the way that PME approaches and PME related activities are practically organised, interlinked and implemented within a specific context of a programme or organisation.

Part of the uniqueness of this paper stems from the fact that it is based on the “real life” experiences of the ten pilot cases, where the participants took charge of their own individual action-research processes with the aim of strengthening their PME practice. The results  presented in this article are based on an analysis across the 10 cases. It is the result of close collaboration with representatives of the different cases through various rounds of revision. A group of external advisors also gave input in the cross case analysis. Extracts of the different  cases are given throughout the results chapter  to illustrate arguments made. More detailed information about each case can be found in the individual case reports, which are available at: -complex-processes-social-change

Theory of Change: A thinking and action approach to navigate in the complexity of social change processes

Iñigo Retolaza Eguren, HIVOS/DD/UNDP, May 2011 Available as pdf.

“This guide has been jointly published by Hivos and UNDP, and is aimed at the rich constellation of actors linked to processes of social development and change: bilateral donors, community leaders, political and social leaders, NGO’s representatives, community-base organizations, social movements, public decision makers, and other actors related to social change processes.

The Theory of Change approach applied to social change processes represents a thinking-action alternative to other more rigid planning approaches and logics. When living in complex and conflictive times, we need to count with more flexible instruments that allow us to plan and monitor our actions in uncertain, emergent, and complex contexts from a flexible and non-rigid logic. As known, this thinking-action approach is also applied to institutional coaching processes and to the design of social development and change programs.

In general terms, the Guide synthesizes the core of the methodological contents and steps that are developed in a Theory of Change design workshop. The first part of the Guide describes some theoretical elements to consider when designing a Theory of Change applied to social change processes. The second part describes the basic methodological steps to develop in every design of a Theory of Change. For reinforcing this practical part, a workshop route is included, illustrating the dynamics in a workshop of this kind.

The approach and contents of the guide emerge from the learning synthesis of the author, Iñigo Retolaza, as facilitator of Theory of Change design processes where social change actors from several Latin American countries have been involved. His two main bodies of experience and knowledge are: (i) the learning space offered by Hivos, where he could facilitate several Theory of Change workshops with Hivos partner organisations in South and Central America, and (ii) his professional relation with the Democratic Dialogue Regional Project of UNDP, from a research-action approach around dialogic processes applied to various areas of the socio-political field: national dialogues on public policy making and adjusting and legislative proposals, facilitation of national and regional dialogue spaces on several issues, capacity building on dialogue for social and political leaders from several countries in the region”