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Published on 15 October 2021

A unique opportunity

When COVID-19 spread during 2020, the resulting formal and informal restrictions of movement presented big challenges to the monitoring and evaluation activities of humanitarian and development projects, as project staff were not able to visit stakeholders, or travel into affected communities or to implementation sites.

However, it soon became clear that the pandemic offered an opportunity for many organisations to develop solutions for collecting data for accountability and learning - which avoided the need for physical contact between people, and the possible transmission of Covid-19.

Christian Aid carried out research about how we adapted our monitoring and evaluation activities to a Covid-19 reality. The research looked at how staff remotely monitored our programmes, in order to assess our practice, and to capture learning around how to improve remote monitoring practices going forward.

Collecting the data
Data collection for the review took place between February  and April 2021.

Survey questionnaires were completed by 21 Christian Aid staff from 14 countries:  Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Colombia, DRC Congo, El Salvador, Haiti, Kenya, Nigeria, IOPT, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe.

Key informant interviews were held with eight additional staff members, including both staff from Christian Aid headquarters and different country programmes.

Advantages and disadvantages of remote monitoring

The review found remote monitoring provides a viable alternative to collecting data on project/programme performance, and that the increase in programme risk as a result of reduced physical presence was acceptable in the short term.

The advantages

  • Most respondents noted that the switch to remote monitoring did not prevent or significantly hinder project implementation. Remote monitoring allowed for flexibility in data collection, both in terms of the amount of data to be collected and the mode of data collection
  • Remote monitoring reduced risks to Christian Aid and partner staff compared to the alternative: completely halting monitoring activities
  • Partners benefited from playing a greater role in the processes of data collection and analysis; this facilitated greater partner accountability in complex and rapidly changing environments, and also enabled quick decision making, as information (especially via social media and phone) could be received in real time and analysed, especially when projects utilised KoBo Collect
  • Remote monitoring also saved on resources (money and time) as travel was reduced

The disadvantages

  • Qualitative data collected was often less detailed and disaggregated, for example due to lack of training or capacity by community data collectors, which is a significant disadvantage
  • Other concerns raised included heightened risks around potential misuse of funds, and fraud and safeguarding incidents
  • There was also some loss of oversight of project progress

A blended approach to monitoring

Despite its advantages, we found that remote monitoring by itself should not be considered an equal alternative to ‘normal’ monitoring, and should only be used in a particular context.

But the study found that remote monitoring could be incorporated into our ‘normal’ monitoring practice in a wider range of projects and programmes.

By cultivating strong and equitable partnership relationships, this approach is an opportunity to strengthen our commitment to localisation and partner decision-making on projects.

Acknowledging the increased risk remote monitoring carries, the review identifies eight key mitigating measures to put in place to reduce the risks related to remote monitoring.

Read the full learning review