Most of the headlines out of Afghanistan are bad news. Under intense scrutiny from stakeholders, the US government has a special lens looking at independent monitoring and verification of activities in the country. The significant investment of US development assistance combined with heightened oversight provides a unique opportunity for developing new approaches to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in conflict afflicted areas.

SI has been working in Afghanistan since 2005 supporting third party monitoring and verification and conducting independent evaluations of USAID’s work both under the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) and the main USAID Mission in health, power, mining, agriculture, democracy and governance and civil society strengthening.

I recently returned from visiting our projects in Afghanistan. Looking at and beyond our projects, I came away with three key observations of the M&E space.

  1. Monitoring, especially the use of ICT, is exceptional. Hands down this the best use of technology in program monitoring I’ve seen in years. The combination of adversity (Mission staff unable to travel), high levels of investment and great thinking have led to innovative systems that the rest of the development community should be learning from. Every agency is using mobile technology and dashboards to collect and relay data in near real time to verify that events are happening.
  2. Local evaluation capacity remains weak. While monitoring and third-party verification systems have excelled, the basics of evaluation remain weak. There are some bright spots with the Afghan evaluation society being very active, but a lot of work to build an evaluative mindset remains to be done. Skills in qualitative interviewing such as key informant interviews and facilitation of focus group discussions need to be strengthened.
  3. The security situation continues to be an obstacle to development assistance. While this is not good news – if we treat the difficult security situation as an opportunity to continue to drive innovation – we might see even better monitoring and evaluation from this space.

In a draft of the Administration’s initial 2018 State Department budget published in Foreign Policy last month, there was a 20% cut to support for Afghanistan. While Congress may have different things in mind for the budget, if cuts will be made in Afghanistan – the role of evidence, of what is working, what is not and how programs can be more relevant, effective, efficient, and sustainable will be more important than ever. Monitoring and evaluation are tools that can be used to generate this evidence.