These days monitoring and evaluation are often bundled together with research, learning and accountability.  Agencies and NGOs come up with ever more complicated acronyms such RMEL, PEARL, MEAL, etc.  Most of the time most people can’t remember what the various letters stand for.

Of course this is all done with the best of intentions: to get the best possible value out of similar functions at an efficient price.  Nothing wrong with that. Except it doesn’t always work like that.  You see, just because different functions get bundled together in a structure that looks efficient on paper, doesn’t mean that those functions will always be more effective.

“Learning” is a good example.  By Learning I mean internal organisational and staff learning from projects being implemented and external learning from the experiences of other organisations.  Everybody includes learning in their plans, but for a lot of people that’s where the learning stays – on the plan.

Often staff will say that this is because there just isn’t enough time to include time for learning, or that learning happens informally and isn’t tracked in any way.  Many agencies also publish their research and evaluations, but never track who is reading their publications and what they are doing with that information.

Many development agencies are understaffed and burn-out is an issue (especially for field staff).  But if you want the best possible people working for you, then time has to be made for learning (or training) and staff development.  Otherwise your team will just keeping going around the same little hamster wheel until they fall off, and then what will you have achieved?

Professions such as doctors, lawyers and accountants use a system of continuous professional development (CPD) points to ensure that individuals have up to date and appropriate skills at all times.  I am not suggesting that development workers should be licensed in the same way as those professions, but the CPD system does mean that professionals do make time for their professional development, because it matters to their ability to be effective in their work.

In the same way, linking learning in NGOs to staff development or pay scales or promotions might seem harsh, but it might also result in better quality time spent on learning that is focused on the needs of the sector and NGO.  Learning events and activities should be built into the outputs and outcomes of agency interventions and tracked with the same diligence that we track numbers of beneficiaries.

What do you think about that idea?  Do you think it will fly?  What is your experience of learning in your own agency?  Do you even have enough time to do the learning that you want to do?


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