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close this bookGATE - 3/91 - Impact - A Neglected Dimension of AT (GTZ GATE, 1991, 52 p.)
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View the documentThe impact of appropriate technology - A neglected dimension
View the documentGATE Project: Participative impact monitoring
View the documentPlanning, observing, steering - Participative impact monitoring
View the documentParticipative planning and evaluation - Expensive in the short term, cost effective in the long term
View the documentThe forgotten overall goal
View the documentAn effective tool for project development
View the documentCreative cooperation demands mutual understanding

Planning, observing, steering - Participative impact monitoring

by Eberhard Gohl

I will never forget the second of January in my office at the Bureau of Agriculture in C. The Head of Department distributed a white slip of paper to each member of staff, on which we had to record everything that we wanted to do in the coming year. He compiled the contents and bingo - the annual work plan was complete. This planning procedure was participative in the extreme, and indeed more than half of what was planned was finished by the end of the year.

Most non-governmental organizations have worked with over the last few years do take the planning of their programmes and projects considerably more seriously. More attention is paid to the needs of the social environment, activities are developed systematically, to work towards a specific goal. The work plans which emerge are often thick compendiums. But, can these detailed plans actually be better implemented than those produced at the drop of a hat?

Planning is important...

In fact there is now a great deal of uncertainty about what constitutes a reasonable, practicable work plan for an NGO. Problems have arisen because, in practice, things often take acompletely different course than that planned, because

· the general situation has changed

· mistakes are often recognized and rectified too late

· the social environment is often not sufficiently integrated in the planning at an early stage

· the community of development agencies often have unrealistically high (and indeed very different) demands and expectations.

The ZOPP planning procedure has attracted the attention of a great many NGOs, although the system was originally designed for state development cooperation. The system is attractive because it employs a high systematic approach, allows an analytical procedure, integrates representatives of the groups of participants and because it is respected by the financing bodies. In many cases ZOPP is a significant improvement on the methods previously used. But it does have its, not inconsiderable limitations:

· The procedure is relatively time consuming

· It is too complicated for a real grassroots application

· Self-help groups can only participate at certain points in the procedure

· The procedure requires an external moderator who, if available at all, can be very expensive.

Innumerable attempts have been made to improve the planning procedure, in particular to ensure greater participation on the part of the social environment. We have seen the "village ZOPP", "MAPP", "LEPSA", "SWOT analysis", "GRAAP", the "future workshop" . . . the creativity which has
been unleashed is boundless, and there are doubtless methods still to be "discovered" which are much more culturally appropriate.

... but steering is more important

Recently though the question has been asked increasingly whether we should really place so much emphasis on the planning in the life span of a project. Nobody questions the need for planning, but planning after all demands management, a continuous steering, which takes into account the fact that programmes and projects are not one-off events, but part of a process. When the project involved is dealing with self-help groups participative steering becomes all the more essential.

But what should a realistic, practicable tool for steering look like. "M + E"-monitoring and evaluation is a buzzword which springs readily to the lips, but what does it really mean in concrete terms?

"Metatitis" (from "meta" meaning "objective") is an ailment diagnosed in Latin American projects, in which those responsible for implementation cling desperately to objectives and indicators once set, without asking themselves about the true meaning of their activities or the impacts they are having.
An M + E system aims to create an information base which can be used to steer a project during implementation. This allows participants:

· to record and evaluate project impacts

· to identify discrepancies between the actual situation and planning guidelines

· to make corrections

· to adjust planning.

Monitoring presupposes the validity of the planning while evaluation questions the planning of the project.

Monitoring is thus more akin to work at implementation level, where decisions are translated into practice. If it is noted that activities cannot be realized as they were planned, that they have undesirable impacts or that the general situation is different to that on which the planning was based, the project can be steered by adding, deleting or substituting activities.

However, as soon as it becomes clear that the deviations from the plan can no longer be corrected merely by adding or halting activities, an evaluation must be performed, as indeed it should be at regular intervals in any case, as a result of which planning may have to be adjusted. This concept of evaluation comes from continuous monitoring and makes evaluation the first step in revising planning. This means that evaluation is geared to the future, it fits smoothly into the process of action and loses its negative character of a formal investigation in which the guilty parties are to be sought out.

The terms "monitoring" and "evaluation" are a red rag to many people whose experience with M + E has been no less than drastic. But there are ways of avoiding the disadvantages of the procedure adopted to date.

The first step must be to establish an internal M + E system tailored to the needs of the organization or body in question. The more this system is based on the participation of the social environment and the NGO staff, the more difficult it will be for development agencies to shirk their own claims to promote participation. If self-help movements and NGOs openly legitimate themselves by democratic management structures, their position is vastly strengthened at every level in their dealings with other organizations.

The second step in creating a positive association with the term "monitoring and evaluation" must be to use simple procedures. While it is true that an evaluation is always relatively complicated when a whole series of participants must be integrated, and replanning is itself by no means a routine job, if an evaluation is based on data obtained by continuous monitoring, it should take on a creative, rather than a merely bureaucratic allure.

One possible option would be to gear an M + E system not so closely to planning data, but to observe the changes in the environment and the impacts of project activities on a continuous basis, together with the social environment. We could make this a foundation for steering. This would be a starting point for participative impact monitoring.


Planning is necessary, but in NGOs' work it often does not make sense to work out excessively detailed plans. Even when the social environment is incorporated In the planning process, using participative procedures. there are many good reasons for continuously modifying and adapting planning. This demands steering instruments which are both simple and flexible to use, instruments which depend less on a rigid plan and are concentrated more on the project process. Participative impact monitoring is designed to meet these demands.


Si la planification est nssaire, il n'en reste pas pertinent d´elaborer des plans trop detailles pour le travail des organisations non gouvernamentales. Meme si l´on reussit a integrer l´environnement social dans la planification a l´aide de la methode participative, les raisons qui exigent des modifications permanentes de le planification sont legion. Il faut donc des instruments de pilotage du projet simples et autonomes. Des instruments relevant moins de la planification que d´un processus dynamique. Le suivi participatif des effets se veut de repondre a ces exigences.


Nadie cuestiona la necesidad de la planificacion; sin embargo, en el campo de actividades de las organizaciones no gubernamentales puede ser contraproducente planes excesivamente destallados. Aunque se logre incorporare/entomo social en la planificacion mediante procesos participativos existen muchos motivos para modificar constantemente ta planificacion. Por tanto, se requieren instrumentos de gestion sencillos, que puedan ser aplicados de forma autonoma, es decir, que no operen primordialmente en funcion de un plan preestablecido, sino que apayen un proceso. Se espera gue la monitoria de efectos segun principios participativos resulte adecuada para satisfacer estas necesidades.