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M&E for Learning

What is it?

The purpose of monitoring, evaluation and learning practices is to apply knowledge gained from evidence and analysis to improve development outcomes and ensure accountability for the resources used to achieve them (ADS 201.3.7). Before we plan our activities, we need to know what we are trying to do and what we need to learn to ensure that the data we collect will help us make decisions. 

It is important to remember that monitoring, evaluation, and CLA are not the end goal, but rather the means by which we achieve our development outcomes more effectively. If the knowledge we are generating through monitoring or evaluation is not yet contributing to real-time decision-making about design and implementation, we may need to take a deeper look at our M&E systems. We can also assess other aspects such as the enabling conditions and decision-making processes that may hinder the effective use of analysis of monitoring data and evaluations.

Guidance and Tools

Need help getting started?

Consider using the CLA Maturity Tool to explore how your team approaches learning.

Important Tips

  • Be strategic and prioritize. Our M&E systems can provide vast amounts of rich information and potential for learning, but we often do not have the absorptive capacity to take it all in. We need to make deliberate choices about what learning can contribute most to our development objectives and what data will support us in that effort.

  • Focus on openness. If you are experiencing barriers to learning from your M&E systems, take a step back and assess where the roadblock lies. It could be a problem with the M&E system itself, or it might arise from a challenge elsewhere in your processes (e.g., decision-making protocols). The strongest learning happens when there is openness to talking about challenges and unexpected outcomes at all levels, including with implementing partners and other stakeholders.

  • Accountability and learning go together. You don’t have to choose between accountability and learning—they go hand in hand. Develop your M&E efforts to support these complementary objectives.

  • Build collaboration around M&E. Generating buy-in from relevant stakeholders (including different offices in USAID, implementing partners, host government, and other donors) early and often can improve our ability to adapt based on learning generated by our M&E systems. pen conversations about the findings of our monitoring and evaluation efforts can build trust and provide a foundation for stronger collaboration.

  • Timeliness matters. Timely M&E activities can go a long way to informing key decision-making. Plan your M&E activities so that you have the relevant information in time and current to make critical decisions.
For more resources, visit the Monitoring Toolkit and Evaluation Toolkit


Making the Case

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is positively and significantly associated with achieving development outcomes when incorporated into program management and designed to support learning and decision-making. In addition, establishing feedback loops increases the likelihood that evidence will inform decision-making.