African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services

Participants at the National Policy Dialogue on Field schools in Uganda

POLICY ISSUES FOR IMPROVING MONITORING AND LEARNING IN THE FIELD SCHOOLS

Participants at the National Policy Dialogue on Field schools in Uganda

Monitoring and evaluation are important, yet, frequently neglected functions. Many organizations have been running farmer field schools over the years but only little/no monitoring and evaluation have been carried out because of many implementation problems and lack of realistic framework. This article highlights constraints to and issues for improving monitoring and evaluation. The methodology adopted in writing this article involved Inductive and deductive reasoning through a review of relevant literature. To improve the performance of FFS interventions, the following policy issues must be addressed: The questions of what should be monitored or evaluated, when should monitoring and/or evaluation be carried out and who should monitor and/or evaluate; and the methodology to be adopted should be included in any FFS intervention. Manpower and financial resources, effective communication and the issue of accountability must be properly considered. Furthermore, the tools for monitoring and evaluation are also very crucial. Attention should therefore be on when, how and who should be involved in monitoring and evaluation.

Introduction and Problem

In general, farmer field schools are regarded as one of the most important pathways to improve agriculture because they have a direct link to the farmers who are producers of food. FAO (2016) postulates that the approach creates a conducive group learning environment using field exercises, critical analysis and group discussions carried out at regular intervals during a full production cycle. According to Pontius, Dilts, and Barlett 2002, the approach enables farmers to make decisions suitable to their actual field situations. Moreover, according to Friis-Hansen and Duveskog (2012), the approach envisages a process of continued learning, action and empowerment by its participants as a result of three educational concepts: the experiential learning cycle (Kolb, 1984), the learner-centered approach for adult education (Rogers, 1969), and the framework for the technical, practical and emancipatory domains of learning (Freire, 1968; Habermas, 1971)

FFS therefore serve the basic purpose of facilitating acquisition of useful information necessary for improved knowledge, skills, aspirations and attitudes. Based on this, FFS therefore involve communication, education, helping farmers form opinions, and adoptions of new knowledge and technologies which enhance agricultural production and productivity, and ultimately improving the standards of living of the farmers (Daneji et al., 2005)

For many institutions/organizations running the FFS approach, aspects of monitoring and evaluation have not been addressed; For some, M&E is not even incorporated in their programing which makes it very difficult to measure progress in implementation of their activities. The FFS monitoring, evaluation and learning framework has been developed with the help of FAO and reviews made by the East African field school Hub as a tool to facilitate the monitoring, evaluation and learning for FFS interventions. Pilot testing exercises for the MEL in East Africa has demonstrated that M&E will effectively fill the gaps in implementation and enable farmers become more efficient and self-reliant managers of their resources within their FFS interventions. This article therefore examines the issues for improving monitoring and evaluation of FFS. The article specifically examines the constraints to effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation of FFS and identifies policy issues.

Constraints to effectiveness of the Monitoring and Evaluation in FFS

There are many constraints to effectiveness of M&E in FFS. Some of these include, inadequate knowledge in monitoring and evaluation, on-involvement of relevant stakeholders in the planning and execution and inadequate institutional arrangement.

Inadequate knowledge in monitoring and evaluation: Monitoring is described as the assessment of programme to know if it is operating in conformity to its design and reaching its specified target. It is an internal programme activity which is an essential part of good management practice. It is, therefore, an integral part of day-to-day management. It involves a continuous process of collecting and processing data. Evaluation on the other hand is the systematic review and assessment of the benefits, quality and value of a programme or activity. It can focus on programme design, implementation and/or results. Most programme implementers do not fully appreciate the primary purpose of monitoring and evaluation. Monitoring and evaluation are supposed to be built-in as an integral part of every programme, but, unfortunately, many programmes receive little or no attention in this respect which leads to failures in implementation.

Inadequate institutional arrangements: If some institutional aspects such as human and material things that are necessary in implementing particular interventions are lacking, failures and generally inefficiency is realized. Some of these institutional challenges are faced by FFS and affect monitoring and evaluation from happening

Non-involvement of relevant stakeholders in the planning and execution: The non-involvement of relevant stakeholders in the planning and implementation often leads to failure. This happens due to the lack of the necessary grass-roots support and the regular mobilization required for their success. When all actors are involved in a programme particularly at the planning stage, it will lead to: (1) long-term commitment of the people to the programme, (2) good rapport between the actors and among the farmers, (3) more accurate decision-making process and (4) quick legitimization of actions. The only problem peculiar to involvement, is the problem of who among the stakeholders should be involved and participates in the programme planning.

Policy issues for improving monitoring and evaluation of FFS Interventions

To improve monitoring and evaluation of FFS, the following policy issues must be addressed: The questions of what should be monitored or evaluated, when should monitoring and/or evaluation be carried out and who should monitor and/or evaluate; the methodology to be adopted in any project; and the tools for monitoring and evaluation should be included in any FFS intervention.

When should monitoring/evaluation be carried out?

Monitoring and evaluation should be integrated into every activity of the FFS programmes. It is essential to develop and establish a habit of doing casual evaluation of the highest possible quality for almost all processes and products involved in the various segments of the programme. The time for monitoring and evaluation should be well budgeted and made part and parcel of the programme planning process. Systematic evaluation usually requires a greater expenditure of resources than normal, and hence it should be done when the resources are available and the use of such evaluation justifies the cost. Most FFS programmes lack this important aspect. This is not well stated in most projects and/or programmes. The few that carry out monitoring activities do so when they feel like. When proper monitoring and evaluation are carried out as at when due, it helps in improving the programme.

What should be monitored or evaluated?

Any FFS intervention may be evaluated in terms of appropriateness (i.e. suitability and quality), accomplishment (i.e. level of achievement of the primary objectives) and efficiency. The entire intervention or a segment of it could be evaluated on the basis of these parameters regardless of whether one is evaluating the total segments or just a segment of it. It is also important that one assesses both the processes and the products (results). An intervention designed to improve the productivity of the farmers should focus primarily on productivity, and this should be measured according to the indicators developed.

Who should monitor/evaluate?

In terms of who should monitor and/or evaluate the FFS interventions, normally, the person who is responsible for providing leadership in planning and implementation should be responsible for its monitoring and evaluation. Therefore, the Master trainers/Farmer field school facilitator/Field school leader and his members should evaluate their own activities because the process itself provides a useful learning experience, which improves their knowledge of the interventions, helps them to accumulate useful evidences that could help in implementation and helps them to grow professionally.

However, there are several limitations, the most important of which is the possibility of the MT/FFS facilitator/group leader not being sufficiently proficient to do a good evaluation. They may not be able to articulate reasons for failure or success of the programme. Therefore, in some cases where the complexity of the problem is beyond technical competence of the personnel, it may be necessary to engage the services of an expert. Even where evaluation is done by the external consultant, the FFS participants/actors should be involved in determining the purpose of the evaluation, designing the kind of information (data) needed, determining how the data should be collected, checking to make sure that the data collected are appropriate and planning how the data will be analyzed, interpreted, reported and used.

Tools for monitoring and evaluation

The tools used for monitoring and evaluation are very crucial in any programmes. For FFS, monitoring and evaluation should be based on simple and easily measurable indicators that can describe or measure change (both process and progress) in various activities and/or components across locations and over time. They should provide useful relevant information about the performance of the projects and/or programmes in achieving the intended objective. Indicators used in most of these agricultural projects and/or programmes should include both qualitative and quantitative aspects, reflecting achievements of physical and financial targets and improvement in the quality of services delivered by the FFS interventions. The relevant information for estimating the values of indicators should be collected through specifically designed format and code sheets by qualified and well-trained field technicians. The person should be fully acquainted with the area and has interest in spending adequate time in the field. Monitoring and evaluation should be done by combining it with different methods such as review of progress reports, on-site crosscheck, interactive discussion with implementers and the recipient group, sample household survey and participatory rural approach with special focus on participatory monitoring and evaluation.

Effective communication and Knowledge Management

Communication and knowledge management is  very key in monitoring and evaluation. For many FFS interventions, Documenting the impacts of field schools has been a challenge and yet a lot has been achieved hence making field schools invisible. communication between the stakeholders still remains a big challenge as well In certain instances, some of the stakeholders are not aware of who is doing what with the field schools. There is need for FS Partners to work closely towards a common goal in the implementation of field schools within the region.

Manpower and financial resources

Manpower and financial resources are the critical issues that need to be addressed in monitoring and evaluation. When the manpower is inadequate, monitoring could be delayed. At the same time, when the persons in charge of monitoring and evaluation are not competent, both monitoring and evaluation will suffer. It is therefore important to have sufficient and competent manpower available to do the job. Also, the financial resources for monitoring and evaluation should be well budgeted for at the planning stage of any FFS activity. Most organizations often fail to budget for monitoring and evaluation at the conception, and when this is not done; little or no monitoring and evaluation will be carried out. In addition to this, without human and financial resources, it means that organizational laws will not be enforced, services will not be provided and reasonable regulations will not be developed. This could, of course, affect monitoring and evaluation which could lead to implementation gaps. Therefore, to ensure effective monitoring and evaluation of FFS interventions, efficient and effective resources (manpower and finances) should be available.

Conclusion and recommendation

Most of the FFS interventions have showed that internal monitoring has remained a routine type of supervision with inherent bias of top-down administrative machinery. The issue of monitoring and evaluation must be properly addressed in all documents relating to FFS interventions. Planning a good FFS program is not a problem but poor implementation is, as a result of poor monitoring and evaluation. Hence, to improve monitoring and evaluation, the following policy issues should be addressed: The questions of what should be monitored or evaluated, when should monitoring and/or evaluation be carried out and who should monitor and/or evaluate; the methodology to be adopted in any project; and also the tools for monitoring and evaluation should be included in any intervention. Poorly monitored projects or Programmes will only yield undesired results.

By Nathan Okwi, EAFS-HUB  M&E Consultant, Mr. Olupot Max, Field School Coordinator and Ibenu Sharon Communications Officer