Monitoring and Evaluation Systems: Role and Relevance in Central Government Schemes
Monitoring and Evaluation within the ambit of Government schemes is becoming an increasingly important phenomenon as Governments are being called upon to demonstrate results and impact of the executed programmes. The idea of having these systems in place is to ensure that public officials and program implementers can be held accountable for the quantum of public spending and efficient utilization of public finances for achieving the desired results. The common feature of most of the government programs is that they are executed across long time frames and changing government scenarios, which deems it necessary to have a continuous monitoring system for policy evaluation and recording tangible results across the lifetime of the program. Due to the federal nature of the Government, often the centrally sponsored schemes have been criticized for poor ownership across the states and the presence of concurrent evaluations would enable the making of mid-course corrections and improve the effectiveness of the programs.
The importance of the M&E system lies not only in developing an evaluation system but also in ensuring that it fits well in the formal planning process and is simultaneously aligned to processes within the government departments. It is appropriate to develop in-built monitoring systems based on field surveys, field visits by experts, and conduct comprehensive assessment of selected states.
The NITI Aayog will be responsible for monitoring and evaluation of government schemes and initiatives which account for Rs.5.75 lakh crore of planned expenditure every year. In the absence of national evaluation policy, there is no framework in place to collect data based on necessary indicators and NITI Aayog depends on credible evaluation based on ground level feedback and evidence conducted by independent organizations to provide institutional solutions. There is a need to establish Monitoring and Evaluation system as an integral part during the design and implementation of the programmes with the evaluation agency being an neutral and independent entity to ensure that evaluation of these programmes is unbiased in nature. Often the evaluation agency is affiliated with the ministry that is in-charge of implementation of the scheme, which could lead to conflict of interest, as the evaluation agency is financially dependent on the ministry.
A preliminary assessment of the design and implementation plan of a few of the flagship programmes of the Central Government reveals that there are varying levels of maturity in the existing M&E processes. For example, the MGNREGA has an elaborate monitoring process detailed out in the establishing act – wherein for the purposes of evaluation and monitoring there is Central and State level Employment Guarantee Councils, supplemented by Village Monitoring Committees. The National Food Safety Mission mandates adherence to “constant monitoring” and “concurrent evaluation” every year, with the State Department of Agriculture/ Department of Economics and Statistics being responsible for conducting evaluation. Most of these schemes have a MIS in place to monitor programme progress through key performance indicators. For instance, project guidelines under AMRUT mandates real-time monitoring at the State and ULB level, with quarterly external monitoring to be carried out by the Independent Review and Monitoring Agency (IRMA).
There is a felt need to go further than logframe based evaluations that is currently seen in the government schemes. A theory-based evaluation that allows an in-depth understanding of the relevance of the programme design in meeting beneficiary needs as well how the programme design scores on scalability are important considerations. Further, evaluating long term programme impact and sustainability necessitates examining how programme design addresses stakeholders incentives through cognitive and behavioural drivers. The current systems in place point to gaps in addressing aspects that go beyond the conventional theory of change approach limited to examining how effectively programme inputs translate into outputs and outcomes. Additionally, an explicit framework to evaluate cost effectiveness and value for money of the programme design tailored to the Indian context would augur well.
M&E processes are a necessary step towards establishing institutionalized mechanisms for achieving transparency and accountability, generating lessons learnt for real-time improvement of the programmes being implemented, and for ensuring effective dissemination of knowledge amongst the participating stakeholders and targeted beneficiaries. The adoption of robust and mature M&E processes would improve the performance of the schemes in effect, and allow for better design and implementation of future programmes.