How can we measure adaptation: monitoring and evaluation as an entry point?

There has been growing interest in measuring progress in climate change adaptation. This has partly been driven by the Bali Action Plan adopted at the Conference of Parties 13, which stressed the need for prioritising and incentivising adaptation actions. Without knowing how effective adaptation actions are it is impossible to prioritise and incentivise them.

SVRK Prabhakar's picture
Insight by 
SVRK Prabhakar
31 March 2011

The importance of measuring adaptation actions in some way has been evident during the formal and informal discussions at the Fifth Conference on Community-based adaptation (CBA5) held in Bangladesh this week.

Most of these discussions have focused on integrating a ‘metric’ — a system of measurement consisting of a unit and a scale — into some kind of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework. Such integration makes sense because a stand-alone system of measurement may not do justice to this important topic and may not have long-term sustainability. Also, many of the donor agencies, local implementing agencies and governments involved in current community-based adaptation interventions already have internal M&E systems in place to measure their own effectiveness.

In a session on adaptation frameworks, most of the frameworks presented had certain points in common. Most of them identify the principles on which adaptation is planned and implemented; have a set of determinants that underline the adaptive capacity; are built based on the principles of adaptive management; and make sure that there is multi-level and cross-sectoral interaction.

It was clear from the session that the frameworks should be a ‘guide post’ with built-in flexibility rather than a rigid column and row-type evaluation sheet that may not be able to capture the diverse impacts of adaptation actions. It was also agreed that the frameworks need to capture overlap between different domains of decision making such as adaptation, development and disaster risk reduction. The speakers reiterated the need for moving beyond an asset-based approach to more social and institutional approaches that instill a sense of learning and evolving as the understanding on climate change impacts and strategies continue to progress.

The frameworks also agree in terms of using participatory processes, and the need for capturing the overall change as a goal.Climate change impacts and adaptation interventions often have a broad range of consequences that are both quantitative and qualitative in nature and may or may not be measurable. One tool for capturing change that has been explored with great success is participatory video. Participatory videos are captured by local communities and shared with different stakeholders to make a case for interventions or as a compelling report on impacts of project interventions. Participatory video involves local communities, provides a creative means of expression and promotes accountability, while also being compatible with other forms of M&E systems.

There are some problems with the current M&E proposals. Most appear to be ‘academic’ in nature, making the following assumptions:

  • it is easy to estimate base lines and establish adaptation targets at levels where adaptation is important
  • tools exist for measuring adaptation and M&E and they just need to be brought together
  • local actors are capable of choosing what is right and wrong and have the information to make these choices
  • integration across scales is simple and straightforward, which doesn’t appear to be the case.

There will be a steep learning curve for using these frameworks and constant backup from the academic community will be needed, which may make them difficult to implement in the real world and will probably limit their spread. The frameworks may not necessarily provide donor agencies with a means to compare across different geographical scales and it could be difficult to decide how much money to invest in what project.

It is important to note that there are also limitations in choosing M&E as an entry point for integrating adaptation metrics. This system would not take into consideration the option of prioritising adaptation actions before they are implemented (ex-ante). M&E could help in scaling up pilot schemes to regions with similar characteristics. But what about areas where no pilot interventions are made where a fresh entry is required?

There is a need to think about how to (re)design these M&E frameworks so they can be used for ex-ante stages of the project cycle. And what about developmental projects that may have adaptation co-benefits? There is a risk that project managers may not evaluate these projects using M&E frameworks designed for ‘adaptation’ projects. A single and integrated M&E framework that considers environmental, disaster, climate change and developmental domains of decision making may be the best approach.

SVRK Prabhakar is an Adaptation Policy Researcher at the Institute for Global and Environmental Strategies (IGES) in Japan.