When I was in primary school, our municipal council in Northern Finland decided to give us – kids of the village – an opportunity to decide how a pre-defined budget from municipal resources would be spent. We were asked to draft initiatives, pitch the ideas and vote for our favourite one. As a young athlete, I advocated for an initiative to make improvements in the local sports track. After intensive campaigning among the fellow pupils, the idea ended up winning.
What happened, what changed? We got a new high-jump mat and the running track for long jump and the concrete base of the shot-put rink were renewed. Overall, the track saw some good improvements.
What actually changed? This experience made me, as a kid, reflect on decision making and implementation processes. First, how wonderful it was that we had been provided with this decision-making opportunity! But I had multiple questions, too. The initiative made me ponder issues around local governance, triggering a curiosity which remains with me to this day.
These personal experiences and the growing interest in ways to adopt inclusive, big-picture approaches to social action, were among the key reasons that I applied to a Monitoring and Evaluation internship with UNDP’s Bangkok Hub. I wanted to learn about the means of capturing, understanding and learning from the results of advancing the SDG agenda in a dynamic development setting.
Interning as part of the RBM unit during Covid-19
I arrived in Bangkok on the 1st of February. Little did we know at that time, how drastically things would change just after a month across the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Luckily, I must say, I was not asked to return home but had an opportunity to follow how UNDP as an organisation adapted and responded to the pandemic in practice.
It has been impressive to see, how individual experts, country offices and bureaus share, learn and act together. I was lucky to have an opportunity to observe this at different levels of action as part of a regional RBM Unit: In the global context, see how the Covid-19 response and recovery monitoring system was developed through consultations across regions and based on the contextual initiatives developed by Country Offices and their stakeholders. At the regional level, observe how Country Offices and colleagues worked together on Covid-19 Offer 2.0 providing the countries with support beyond recovery.
More than anywhere else, I could observe this sharing as part of the RBM network consisting of country office and BRH colleagues. During the pandemic, we have had an opportunity to benefit from shared knowledge and experiences from multiple fronts. The Myanmar Country Office provided us insights into their robust M&E systems, Sri Lanka taught us about the use of KoboToolBox in data collection, India Country Office triggered conversations and shared their guidelines on ethical consideration on remote monitoring arrangements and demonstrated how to use the eVin system for Covid-19 material supply chain tracking, the Nepal Country Office introduced Reconstruction Information Management System, and the Youth Co:Lab team guided the development of guidelines for monitoring private sector funded Covid-19 response projects - and the list continues. From the Hub, we continued the agenda through webinars, guidance notes and mostly, listening, learning and connecting. We worked on improving the quality of our evaluations under IEO’s guidance to further our systems of accountability, transparency and learning.
To me, this kind of open sharing of not just best practices, but also challenges and lessons learnt, seems like a powerful enabling factor for UNDP’s mandate around the six Signature Solutions and developing innovative integrated solutions for public service delivery, gender-equal Future of Work, tackling plastic pollution and so on. As part of the mid-term review of the UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Programme, the sharing seemed to be a prevalent strength also when UNDP works in partnerships with large social media companies on preventing violent extremism or civil society organisations on promoting LGBTI rights.
The internship experience has exceeded my learning goals on Monitoring and Evaluation beyond all expectations. However, probably the most remarkable result of this experience at the individual level is, that it has exponentially further increased my curiosity towards the questions around the means of assessing the short- and long-term results of societal actions.
The integrated and innovative approaches that organisations like UNDP adopt, provide an intriguing learning challenge: They encourage us to keep constantly developing, adapting and also rethinking the theory of change models, monitoring systems and data collection tools, so that we can capture the holistic nature of the intended and unintended results of our work and lessons learnt in dynamic contexts. They encourage us to keep developing and reflecting on the beneficiary feedback and mapping mechanisms, which could bring the actual changes in people’s lives to our attention, support evidence-based decision-making and help ensure that no one is left behind.