Last Thursday I made the long, windy and bumpy journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city. One of my motivations for coming here was that I had been able to secure an interview with a member of the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team of the biggest development project here in Nepal. This projects is a 50:50 initiative between the Government and some of the biggest donors and UN agencies operating in Nepal. The project gets a massive amount of funding (over $US760 million in it’s first year) and operates in every single district of Nepal. So I jumped at the opportunity to speak with one of the 4 district cluster M&E staff members. One reason being that this would provide a great research opportunity for my thesis findings. The other being because on a personal level, I was genuinely interested to know how they are measuring the impact of such vast funding, being dispersed into so many projects at the local level, and how these projects are measured as successful when there is so much suffering and hardship visible every where I turn in Nepal. The interview got off to a good start, courtesies were swapped and cups of tea poured. But as I was able to delve into my questions, an air of defensiveness arose. This is becoming a bit common, with M&E being a touchy subject, some people often seem worried that I am secretly their to monitor their work so matter how much I reassure them otherwise.
In this project, the Nepalese Government directs where the money should go to and what the development agenda should be. Multilateral agencies seem to get a say, but it seems to only a certain degree. The M&E staff go with checklists to assess the success of these projects, but there appeared in my view to be little recognition of the corruption in the use of development funding which so many citizens keep telling me about when I state my research topic. But when I asked my interview subjects for their perceptions on the M&E systems in place, their response, “it’s perfect” – nothing that needs to be improved, nothing not working well, everything going great, nothing more to be said. Everyone else I have had the opportunity to speak with so far has recognized innumerable challenges of M&E in Nepal. This was the first time I had heard anyone say with such strong conviction that something, anything, in this country is being done the correct way. M&E is such a difficult aspect of any development project, but more and more I am seeing just how important it is to qualify the projects being funded here. I hope in the weeks to come I am able to delve further into this issue, as well as getting less hostility in my research interviews!