Most communities have a history of collectively planning activities around issues such as poverty, farming, and education and then taking action in accordance with their plans. As they work, they periodically take stock of how they are doing and make needed adjustments. Although they may not refer to these activities as “monitoring and evaluation” (or M&E), the process is important.

In Guatemala, for example, a group of Mayan mothers took stock of their efforts to increase food security by counting the number of graves for children each year. Asked about their accomplishments, they pointed with pride to the sharp decline in the number of children’s graves.

In community-led protection of children, these processes may involve a variety of community-decided modalities. Depending on the wishes of community members, monitoring processes may be relatively informal, or they may be quite structured and systematic.

It is important to give communities the space to decide upon their own processes of monitoring and evaluation and to avoid imposing outside approaches. Indeed, even the terms “monitoring” and “evaluation” should not be imposed.

Community-Led Monitoring

Through monitoring of their activities, communities keep track of which steps they have taken, and identify gaps or challenges that require adjustments to the action process. Communities may also evaluate their work by periodically stepping back from their action to reflect on its strengths and weaknesses and how it is affecting children. These reflective sessions can yield insights that point toward needed improvements in the community work.

Community-led monitoring of the steps taken to address the selected harm(s) to children may occur in an organic manner that requires little effort on the part of an NGO. Both community action facilitators and communities themselves may recognize the need to keep track of which activities are under way and of where the community is in regard to its planned steps.

For example, the community might have decided to address teenage pregnancy using methods such as providing contraceptives, educating people about sex, puberty, and reproductive health, and doing role-plays and group discussions to stimulate awareness about the problems associated with teenage pregnancy. In such a context, the community action facilitators might decide that they need to know things such as whether contraceptives are actually available, whether people have actually been requesting contraceptives, whether people such as Peer Educators have been trained on issues of sex, puberty, and reproductive health, and which actual role-plays and group discussions are underway.

Even if they track these things informally, without written records, the action facilitators could collect information that would help the community to take effective action.

Other community members, too, may be involved in monitoring activities. For example, a youth leader might keep track of how many role-plays and discussions the youth group had conducted, and who had helped to lead them.

The community action facilitators might then use this information to help the community to make any needed adjustments. For example, community action facilitators might have noticed that no contraceptives were readily available but that young people were asking for them. In response, the community action facilitators could meet as a group or with the full community to decide how to correct this shortage, thereby modifying the action plan and putting themselves in a position to take corrective steps.

Similarly, if a youth leader remembered that they had agreed during community planning discussions to organize role-plays and group discussions on a regular basis but noticed that no such activities had occurred yet, they might talk with other youth group members to learn about what activities are planned, whether there have been challenges in organizing the activities, and so on.

Ideally, the youth leader would communicate what they learned to the community action facilitators, so that they, too, would know the status of the youth activities. This feeding back process could be an occasion also for dialogue with the community action facilitators about how to address any challenges and take steps to move forward in implementing the community action plan.

If these activities happen organically, without the assistance of an NGO, it is a useful indicator that the process is indeed community-owned and led. However, if such activities do not arise organically, it is useful for an NGO facilitator to support such activities with the aim of enabling them to become community-led as soon as it is possible and appropriate.

For example, the NGO facilitator could ask the community action facilitators (or other community selected agents) or the entire community questions that invite reflection on the status of the community-led action, without making community members feel that they are being judged. The questions could invite an overall update on activities, probe particular aspects of the community-led action, and then invite reflection on challenges and how to address them.

Sample questions that might be useful to ask include the following:

  • I’m eager to learn where you are in your community-led action. What steps is the community taking at present to address its self-selected harm(s) to children? What activities are being conducted?
  • In your planning discussions, you had decided that an NGO should provide training for a number of community members, to better enable the community to address the harm(s) to children. Has that training occurred? How did it go? Following the training, what activities did the trainees engage in with the community?
  • Your planning discussions also called for youth groups to be active in conducting role-plays followed by open discussions in order to raise awareness of the problem and identify steps that people could take to address the problem. Are role-plays being conducted? Who is participating, and how are they going?
  • Working on harm(s) to children has many complexities, and it is natural for challenges to arise. What challenges are coming up in your community-led action? What steps might be taken to address these challenges?

In a spirit of capacity building, the NGO could also ask whether it would be helpful for the community to establish its own process for taking stock of how the community-led action is going and making any needed adjustments.

For example, an NGO facilitator might ask whether this discussion has been useful and why. Community members might respond, as they often do, that it is valuable to create space for looking at where they are in their community action overall, identifying challenges, and discussing whether and how to adjust their community action.

The facilitator could then ask whether the community should engage in its own reflective process like the above discussion on a regular basis. If the answer were affirmative, the discussion could then turn to how the community would enable such regular discussions. As usual, it would be up to the community to decide how it wanted to move forward.

If the action is inter-community, an approach that has proven useful is to have a focal person in each community who regularly updates the inter-community facilitating group as to how the action is proceeding in each particular community.[1]

It is important, however, to avoid having the focal person become seen as being the director of the community-led action. Instead, the focal person is a collector and sharer of information who helps the community move forward in its action with an informed, reflective stance. Often, communities decide to have one of the community action facilitators serve as the focal point, and even to rotate this responsibility among different community action facilitators.

For monitoring purposes, an inter-community process could also include visits across the participating communities by, for example, the community action facilitators. Although they can be expensive, such visits can enable cross-learning, enable constructive discussions about how to address challenges, and ignite new excitement in a community that is perhaps struggling under the weight of other issues. However, such visits might not be appropriate if they are unlikely to be sustained by the communities themselves, using their own resources.

Community-Led Evaluation

In a community-led evaluation, the community steps back following a significant chunk of time—such as the passage of each year—to take stock of the effectiveness and sustainability of its action.

Communities may decide themselves to enable such a reflection. If not, the NGO could ask whether it would be useful to have a reflective, two-day workshop led by the community action facilitators, with preceding and follow-up discussions with the community.

In most cases, communities quickly discern the potential benefits of such a workshop and set about organizing it themselves. Community members are likely to bring songs, drawings, stories and narratives, and other materials that help to evaluate their action to the meeting. In some cases, they may even take a child-led approach in which they invite both girls and boys selected by the community to help gather relevant information and play a central role in the evaluation.[2]

Ideally, the evaluation process should ask and seek to learn about the difference the community-led action is making in the lives of children.

If the community had decided to address the harm of children being out of school, what has changed? Are fewer children out of school, and if so, why? If there has been no reduction in the number of out-of-school children, why is that?

Communities frequently ask such questions on their own. Yet if they do not, it can be useful for an NGO facilitator to help them to consider and discuss such questions.

It can also be useful for communities to reflect on the inclusivity of the action, and how to bring more people into the process. The evaluation process should include strong components of collective reflection, problem-solving, and ideas about corrective action, if needed. In this manner, the reflection process becomes part of the means through which communities take responsibility for the well-being of their children.

In a spirit of coordination and mutual learning, it can also be important to share the learning with other agencies and government stakeholders in the area who are involved in child protection and supporting vulnerable children.

For example, the supporting NGO could convene an interagency workshop in which leaders of the community action, including children, discuss their action, what they have accomplished, and their challenges and way forward. Hopefully, this might inspire other agencies and the government to take greater interest in using community-led approaches. It could also be a moment for joint reflection about how to take the community-led approach to scale.

Key Benchmarks:

  • Communities establish a monitoring process for each area, with participation from diverse community members.
  • The community process tracks the community activities and needed materials, trainings, and other inputs.
  • Community members periodically reflect on how the community action process is going, identify its strengths and any challenges, and identify any corrective steps needed.
  • At longer intervals, communities step back and take stock of whether and how the community-led action is helping children, with findings shared with different stakeholders.

What to Avoid:

  • A monitoring and evaluation process with no follow-up action or adjustments.
  • Monitoring and evaluation processes that are too dependent on the NGO.
  • Infrequent or poor communication across villages.
  • Focal points, community facilitators, or coordinators acting as if they drive the monitoring and evaluation process rather than facilitating it.

[1] In the community-led process in Sierra Leone, for example, each community had a focal person who updated and served a point of contact for the inter-community facilitating group (the Inter-Village Task Force, outlined in Tool MGM 3 in the companion Toolkit).

[2] International Institute for Child Rights and Development (2012). Child and youth-centered accountability: A guide for involving young people in monitoring and evaluating child protection systems. Victoria, BC: Author.