What are the ethical implications of using Third-Party Monitoring?
What do you do when you are an A/COR and unable to visit your activity’s sites because they are located in insecure areas or because your mission has restricted all travel due to COVID-19? Would Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) help you to fulfill your oversight responsibilities? This blog post provides a brief description of TPM and discusses some of the ethical implications of using this mechanism.
What is Third-Party Monitoring?
USAID defines Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) as “the systematic and intentional collection of performance monitoring and/or contextual data by a partner that is not USAID or an implementing partner directly involved in the work.”
Third-party monitors (also called field monitors) are contracted by USAID to act as its eyes and ears when USAID staff are unable to carry out their oversight responsibilities by visiting project/activity sites. This situation often occurs in non-permissive environments which are characterized by instability, inaccessibility, and/or insecurity.
What can a TPM contractor do?
Verification of activities is the primary purpose of third-party monitoring. The TMP service provider verifies that goods, commodities, and equipment have been delivered and services have been provided as reported by the implementing partner. This information helps the A/COR to better understand programmatic performance and to make decisions about approving financial reports and vouchers. It also ensures compliance with laws that prevent USG resources from going to sanctioned groups.
The TPM service provider may also inspect implementation progress, collect feedback from beneficiaries, and collect contextual or atmospheric data to get a sense of the larger environment affecting activity implementation.
What are the ethical implications of using a TPM contractor?
Third-party monitoring can be risky and dangerous. Depending on the context, field monitors may be subjected to physical threats, kidnapping, imprisonment or even death while conducting site visits. By engaging a TPM contractor, USAID is transferring risk to a third party. This risk transfer should not be taken lightly and should be a point of discussion in early planning stages for TPM. Field monitors often live and work in locations where monitoring is taking place and may be placed at greater risk by taking on the role of field monitor. There is also the risk that field monitors may overstate their level of access to sites and under-report security incidents in order to secure an income stream.
How can the risks be mitigated?
There are measures that USAID and the TPM contractor can put in place to reduce the risks to field monitors. For example, the TPM provider should develop a security plan that addresses the particular security concerns for the context in which the contractor is operating. The TPM provider may need to secure official introduction letters from high-level authorities in order to access sites for monitoring. In addition, there should be an emphasis on training field monitors in security measures, and clear protocols on how field monitors can be supported in challenging situations. (You can learn more about risk mitigation strategies for third-party monitoring in non-permissive environments by taking the online course on USAID University called “Third-Party Monitoring for Non-Permissive Environments”).
In conclusion, TPM is a great tool for Collaboration, Learning and Adapting since it brings USAID, implementing partners, and TPM contractors together to discuss USAID’s information needs and how this information will be collected and used. However, engaging a TPM contractor has ethical and security implications that have to be considered carefully during the planning and implementation processes.