Monitoring, evaluation and learning for more effective African science granting councils

Monitoring, evaluation, and learning are essential; they help funders assess the impact of research projects and other policy initiatives. These three activities help refine funded activities, methodologies and ultimately ensure improved outcomes. All three activities, known collectively as MEL, involve collecting, organising, processing and analysing data and then reflecting on the data results. Collectively, MEL is an iterative process that ensures the effectiveness of scientific endeavours.

The Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) puts a central focus on monitoring, evaluation, and learning. For science councils, MEL plays a key role in the alignment of funding activities with local and regional needs, ensuring value for money of funding and enables assessment of inclusivity goals. As such, it enhances the effectiveness of interventions. More broadly, this allows African science councils to ensure their work has more impact fostering sustainable development and empowering communities.

MEL can also help evaluate who, when and where to conduct research collaborations. Pan-African scientific projects promote collaboration and address regional challenges. Ultimately, they cultivate a more impactful and resilient scientific landscape. However, without data on who is working on what and where different research infrastructure can be found, it makes it difficult to promote research collaboration amongst scientists.

Initiative level MEL
While the SGCI supports and promotes capacity strengthening of MEL capabilities within the participating 17 science councils, the Initiative also places a focus on MEL and the assessment of the impact of the Initiative as a whole. Such MEL asks questions like:

Is each part of the Initiative successfully delivering benefits? Is it working? Is it having an impact? SGCI must be able to track and report on all the work being implemented. Monitoring, evaluation, and learning helps the Initiative do this and is now being weaved throughout the SGCI’s work.

With this in mind, the SGCI revised the way Initiative level MEL was conducted in 2023. Since 2015, an external consultant has managed monitoring, learning and evaluation at the initiative level. The new approach embeds MEL into the fabric of day-to-day activities of the implementing agencies and looks to synergise MEL activities at the Council level with those at the Initiative level. It is hoped that a spin-off from this approach will be a reduction in reporting requirements for African science councils as more coordinated reporting for external funders is established.

This more joined-up MEL approach tries to ensure the following questions are answered: How does behaviour change at the initiative level resonate with change required at the national Council level? How does the higher-level outcomes and impacts desired by the Initiative mirror those of the individual Councils in the Initiative?

Monitoring, evaluation and learning to unify aims and objectives

Alongside this realignment of MEL activities at Initiative level comes a revised data collection and analysis approach. A slightly revised technical report format will be introduced from 2024 to collect data during routine reporting activities of the Initiative’s ‘collaborative technical agencies’ who work with Councils to strengthen capabilities in areas of research management, evidence and policy making, strategic communications, gender and inclusivity and public-private partnership amongst others. This is instead of having to submit a second set of online reports as had previously been the case. A similar approach will be taken with data collection at Council level.

Furthermore, a stronger focus will be placed on identifying -through technical reports – ‘stories of change’ or examples and case studies of where the Initiative supported activities have led to systems level change or behaviour change within Councils or associated stakeholders (notably the research community they fund). Where data for these stories of change cannot be found sufficiently in the technical reports, semi-structured interviews will be held with key stakeholders including science council staff and relevant others in policy, academic and practice arenas.

Relevance of MEL
By the end of 2025, the SGCI aims to have contributed to ‘economic and social development in sub-Saharan Africa through strengthening national research, Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) systems. ’The revised MEL plan at Initiative level will monitor and evaluation progress towards this goal. It will allow Councils to more effectively make arguments for more funding, resources and decide where and how to utilise the funding they wish to disburse. In so doing, the Councils and the Initiative can ensure their activities are changing society and achieving national development goals as well as the broader sustainable development goals.

Click here for more information about SGCI.