Reflection and Evaluation

Two weeks after leaving Malawi has allowed a bit of time to overcome the culture shock of returning to Geelong and space for reflection .

The good parts: There were many! The people, the climate, the natural environment, the culture of engagement, the good humour, the resilience and resourcefulness of the Malawian people. There were many more but these will do as a start…

The challenges: There were many! The erratic infrastructure, the pollution, the limitations of bonding capital, the indescribable effects of internalised and institutionalised colonialism, the dysfunctional Government system, the ‘drama triangle’ played out between the Malawians and donors.

The disappointments. The major disappointment was to find that the roles of those involved in contemporary international development programs are far more aligned to those I experienced as an apprentice in an engineering works than the job titles themselves would suggest.

Factory Terminology Development Terminology` Role
Client Donor Sets out the brief, provides the funds.
Design Engineer Proposal writer Designs the product to be implemented/constructed
Works Manager Project Manager Responsible for the day to day running of the project/order
Foreman M&E specialist Keeps track of day to day operations and performance
Craftsman Trainer Provider of specialist skills
Machine operator Field facilitator Output implementers
Labourer Driver General dogs body

The joys; Being involved with the Malawian people was wonderful. I got immense satisfaction and enjoyment from designing and facilitating more than 23 workshops over the period, especially with establishing and running the five inaugural sessions of the M&E Technical Working Group.

Some of the wonderful feedback I got from the M&E Technical Working Group members were:

It has been an honor to know and work with you Martin, you are so easy to talk to when one has issues. I must really appreciate the way we interacted during your stay here. Let me assure you that I will strive to utilize the skills you shared and thanks again for that useful book and the start-up materials, that was so wonderful, may the good Lord give back abundantly- Rodrick


Thank you for the time we spent together here in Malawi and for the skills you have shared with us I really appreciate for this – Bonface


I will miss your pragmatic approach to issues and rare facilitation skills. We were empowered. Hope to work with you again. – Ronald


The contribution you made to our TWG is so great that you have left a mark. – Marie


Goodbyes are always sad but we still celebrate the time you have worked with CU and inTWG…You are the best mentor and that has brought the best out of us. We look forward to using your good facilitation skills in our workshops.- Cecelia


It was great working with you, and the skills you imparted on me will surely have a significant impact on my professional development.- Tenthema

Evaluation It was a really rewarding 18 months, and I need to say a big ‘Thankyou’  to all those in the organisations of Concern Universal Malawi and Australian Volunteers International for providing such an opportunity. I learned all kinds of things, had great times, experienced some (not too dangerous) challenges with adequate support and above all made some great connections with some wonderful people. We may have even made a slight bit of difference…. What more can one want!

Facilitation Fundamentals – Theory & Practice

1 Lit review

Richard scribing participants views of facilitation after doing a Lit Review

My observation is that there is a serious gap between rhetoric and reality in the international development world. There are people with positions called ‘field facilitators’ but with job descriptions based on achieving outputs such as ‘Numbers of people trained in …. ‘


Concentration: Tiaone, Cecilia, Sithembile, Akimu, Masowi

 Enjoying themselves

Enjoying themselves:Sithembile, Masowi, Barton, Cecilia, Tiaone

or ‘Number of villages declared ODF’. Similarly donors require workshops exploring ‘lessons learned’, but in practice everyone looks at their laptop before making a presentation and the most senior person makes a few comments that get noted as the ‘lessons learned’. I have been trying to show a few different ways of doing things, and CU asked me to run one day courses on ‘everything I know about those workshop techniques I’ve been using’.

Philemon and Blessings making a point to Richard

Discussion: Sithembile, Akimu and Masowi

At the end of the session I asked each to make a commitment to try out at least one of the techniques that they’d used during the day. They all seemed very keen to do so which was gratifying.

As the organisation is spread across quite a wide area, yesterday was the first of four.  I managed to demonstrate, and/or they practiced in the course of unpacking this thing called facilitation:
History wall, Lit Revew, NGT, Poster Process, Noisy RR, Silent RR, Card storming, Think/Pair/Share, Likert Scales and a long stream of introductions (as arrival times are always erratic). The group provided some hilarious energisers, which were slightly risqué but nothing compared with Village Dancing

I will of course make some changes, one of which will be to run a session on ground rules, with a question about mobile phone use….


Action Learning in Action

Using the Lit Review process, participants explore Action & Reflective Learning

Using the Lit Review process, participants explore Action & Reflective Learning

The M&E technical working group continues to be my favourite Malawian project. Last week was TWG #4 where we further developed the idea of a centralised data base system and reviewed participants mini projects to improve data collection in their work. I was particularly pleased with this latter part of the workshop.

I started with a ‘Literature review’ on Action Learning and Reflective practice. This helped them better understand some completely new theory to all of them. After this backgrounding I ran a short sociometric exercise on how long they had been practicing M&E and from this created pairs with different levels of experience.

Some of the pairs with different skill levels helping each other in their presentation

Some of the pairs with different skill levels helping each other in their presentation

The next step was for each pair to help each other develop a 2min presentation on what they had developed in TWG #2, what they had done and to reflect on the process.


When asked to record what they had learned during the session, by far the majority referred to Action Learning in some way – some examples:

  • How the action research process works to improve M&E and the learning process
  • Learned from the actions taken by other M&E officers to achieve an improvement in data collection
  • At least that action research/learning, one needs to reflect and act upon the identification of gaps and what has worked and what has not worked
  • The application of action learning/research in day to day M&E activities and how it can help in reflection
  • The concept of action research and how to apply it in my day to day activities
  • What action research is and the importance of action reports
  • A reflection of the data collection process.
  • That I can use the action research approach to improve on data collection process of my project. It is good to get everyone involved in the process because it gets people talk the same language at the end of the day. – you plan together on what to collect and how – you implement – you reflect and then modify the tools or process where necessary.
Small steps or big goals? Not sure, probably too early to tell.

Small steps or big goals? Not sure, probably too early to tell.


Introductory exercise at Workshop 1. Where's home, favourite book, academic background.

Introductory exercise at Workshop 1. My name is.. My family….  I studied……. My favourite book…..

A great joy of the year has been to facilitate the Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Working Group (M&E TWG). The organisation implements approximately 17 projects, often with multiple donors and always with a variety of reporting requirements. Thus there are currently 14 staff members who are responsible to a greater or lesser degree for the Monitoring and Evaluation of these projects. Physically they are spread out across eight districts with a 6hr drive between the extremes. The rationale for the TWG is to develop a peer learning culture to improve the quality of M&E across the organisation. To allow for travel, these six weekly one day workshops start at lunch time on a Thursday and finish lunch time the next day. We have now held three since Christmas last year, with two more before we leave Malawi.


Is this a first? Workshop participants using their mobiles as a workshop exercise.

In the first workshop I took the opportunity to pick everyones brains about how to collect some data that the UK office wanted. A participant suggested that I could get it by looking at the various surveys carried out within the projects, a problem being that there is no central record of what surveys are carried out. At this point I took great delight in being able to break all the usual rules about mobile phones in a workshop. I handed out phone credit tokens to them all and offered a prize to the one who after phoning their friends could provide a list with the most number of surveys conducted during the previous financial year.

Ranking the quality of the various elements of an M&E system across the organisation

Ranking the quality of the various elements of an M&E system across the organisation


Each participants plan to improve data collection processes in their project

In the second workshop I ran a self assessment process around the quality of each of the M&E elements in their projects.  Everyone then developed a small mini project that would improve the data collection process in their project. A fascinating insight came when I asked each to describe their project, outlining the steps and how they were going to monitor progress. At this point I was asked what I meant by monitoring progress, did I mean indicators or something? That making some notes in a diary was ‘monitoring’ seemed to come as quite a surprise to them.


The following session they all gave a report back – learning set style – no suggestions, only questions. Next session I’ll ask for some evaluation.

Bonding capital* rules – OK!

Grace 1

Grace clarifying the question in the first small group discussion

small group 1

Small group discussion Question 2

At change over time on Saturday, we ran a (rough) participatory budgeting workshop with the eight permanent guards for them to decide how to distribute the $550 donated by our generous neighbours and  Australian friends. We designed a process for the barely literate, that is with simple instructions, little written out. Through Grace our interpreter we first asked them to discuss with each other three questions, asked sequentially: How had the big storm effected them? What would they do if they had a little bit of money to aid recovery? How would they demonstrate to each other that they had spent the money in that way?


Allocating funds with sugar sachets

After this process, we provided each with twenty sugar sachets, each worth roughly MK1200. They were to allocate these funds to each other. They were not allowed to allocate funds to themselves. However, after each distributing their 20 sachets they came to a collective realisation that this process had resulted in an uneven distribution of the funds. They demanded an opportunity to do it again. However then they realised it would always result in an uneven distribution, and as they did not want any body to be jealous, they wanted to split the funds equally. We went to great lengths to impress on them that this was their decision, not ours.

The Revolution: When they realised that the process would result in unequal allocation.

The Revolution: When they realised that the process would result in unequal allocation.

On Reflection: The designed process was OK in that they made the decision for equal allocation themselves. However I’m sure we could have designed something different that would have made them come to that decision without it being a revolution. Also even just having the names written was almost certainly too much writing for the (at least) one who was completely illiterate. (e.g.: We should have had photos).

They were all very grateful and wished to thank everyone that had helped them. They collectively decided that within the next two weeks they would each get two friends to visit them to see how they had spent the money  and report back.

*Bonding capital : Everyone with similar values – see each other through good and bad times, but don’t dare be different. Linking capital: Essentially all having the same values, but able to accept some individual differences. Bridging capital: Able to acknowledge and accept those with completely different value systems to oneself.