Benefits of Participatory M&E
PM&E encourages local communities to build adaptive capacity. Participants involved are able to gain skills which strengthen local capacities for tasks such as resource management or planning, problem solving, and collaborative decision-making (Jackson & Kassam, 1998; Onyango, 2018). Participants also develop a greater understanding of the factors (internal or external), which affect the dynamics of a project, such as successes, failures, potential solutions, or alternative actions (Campos & Coupal, 1996 in Estrella & Gaventa, 1998).
The focus of PM&E as a learning opportunity is also significant (Margoluis & Salafsky, 1998; Selin et al., 2000). In order to achieve sustainability under conditions of socio-ecological change, continuous learning in community initiatives is crucial (Armitage et al., 2008). The cyclical PM&E process involving problem identification, taking action, monitoring, and reflecting and redefining the problem, inherently affords the opportunity to strengthen and deepen the contributions of primary stakeholders and rights holders, through shared learning, joint-decision making, co-ownership, etc. (Jackson & Kassam, 1998; Onyango, 2018).
An underlying objective of PM&E is to achieve a more holistic perspective of an initiative, by involving a diverse set of stakeholders and rights holders (Stem et al., 2005). Participation may also increase the likelihood that community sustainability decisions are perceived to be locally relevant, holistic and fair, while accounting for a diversity of values and needs and recognizing the complexity of human-environmental interactions (Jackson & Kassam, 1998; Richards et al., 2004).
Participation can empower stakeholders and rights holders through the co-generation of knowledge with researchers and increasing participants’ capacity to use this knowledge (Greenwood et al., 1993; Okali et al., 1994). Participation may also increase the likelihood that community sustainability decisions are perceived to be relevant, holistic and fair, while accounting for a diversity of values and needs and recognizing the complexity of human-environmental interactions (Richards et al., 2004).
Challenges of Participatory M&E
Participation in M&E is time consuming because it requires involvement in all or most phases of the overall project, including planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Projects with community involvement may have more difficulty coordinating meetings due to differing schedules, travel requirements, etc. Community members will have livelihood, family, and perhaps other organizational obligations (Lasker & Weiss, 2003).
Unequal power structures among decision makers, scientists, and local community members are an inherent challenge of PM&E. It is important to think critically about power throughout the PM&E cycle, taking into account not only the power relations between the project leads and the community, but also those that exist within the community itself.
Although community members can learn new knowledge and skills through this process, it is common that each participant will have varying levels of skills at the beginning of the process. This can include project management skills, data collection, or even communication. Even language barriers can limit meaningful engagement.
In line with this, it can be difficult to integrate multiple types of knowledge and perspectives from multiple diverse backgrounds. This process of integration can even be accompanied by group conflict which required a skilled facilitator to work through and arrive at a final decision. For example, there may be key differences in a western perspective of sustainability compared to an Indigenous perspective of sustainability. It is important to acknowledge all perspectives as valid and informative.
Engaging with Indigenous communities and active consultation can be considered a challenge in PM&E. Often times, this step is overlooked or not undertaken at all. Although it may be difficult to understand when and how to engage and consult with Indigenous communities, it is essential. Think back to Module 2, where you have learned about the process of engaging with Indigenous communities, and how to respectfully enter into an Indigenous community.