Monitoring, Evaluating and Learning from Adaptation Action

Given the variable and uncertain impacts of climate change, effective adaptation must be an ongoing and evolving process. It, therefore, requires monitoring, evaluation and learning systems which account for long and multiple time scales.

Monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) approaches to climate adaptation projects and policies range across a spectrum from indicator-based approaches to AI and machine-learning-based methods (e.g. Sietsma et al. 2024), from quantitative to expert-judgement based (Global Adaptation Progress Tracker – GAP-Track, Resilience Rating System), and from local to global (e.g. Gao and Christiansen (eds.) 2023, Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative). Our team in PlanAdapt keeps abreast of the key trends and advises on, helps establishing and running ME&L activities in collaboration with our partners.

MEL for adaptation builds on widely recognised performance and impact evaluation practices of MEL used by governments, international institutions, and NGOs (OECD, BetterEvaluation). The incorporation of learning into the M&E framework seeks to extend the time-bound and completion accountability focus of traditional monitoring and evaluation. Instead, M&E which includes learning, particularly that used for adaptation, centers collaboration from a wide range of effected participants and aims to incorporate learning into current as well as future improvements in implementation activities.

In their brief on M&E, the NDC Support Cluster authors explain learning as: the process of exploring what has worked and what has not; which adaptation actions have led to better development outcomes despite worsening climate hazards; which have not and why. This builds from actions for monitoring, which include: the collecting of information on specified parameters to track the progress of adaptation actions and the achievement of adaptation objectives; all of which inform evaluation, which involves assessing adaptation actions to determine their effectiveness, impact, efficiency and sustainability and the extent to which they have fulfilled specified objectives.

While there is no standardized form of ME&L for adaptation, there is general agreement that the process is necessary and should be related to the scale at which it takes place, whether national, institutional, or within specific projects or programs (Leiter, 2015). There is similar agreement that ME&L should incorporate both quantitative and qualitative information (Smith, Cuccillato & Anderson, 2014), and seek to make use of existing data, set indicator baselines, and have a clear purpose. With the specific purpose established, the content of the ME&L process can be formulated to achieve the more general aim of guiding and identifying successful climate change adaptation.

Aligning ME&L with Transformative Adaptation

The integration and specification of ME&L for climate change adaption has grown quite a lot since IIED declared it a ‘young discipline’ in 2014 (Smith, Cuccillato & Anderson, 2014). Despite several published best practices and principles, such as FEBA’s Guidebook, there are remaining challenges of how to best negotiate power asymmetries within MEL practices, and related, how to assure that any written policy and program ideals for MEL are translatable into practice. With these concerns at the helm, current discussions of MEL have moved from a focus on specific methodological concerns (Dilling, 2019), such getting the metrics and indicators right, or assessing attribution and establishing baselines and targets, to less tangible questions such as how MEL can facilitate transformational climate change adaptation.

While the entire field of climate change adaptation involves a variety of power asymmetries, the practice of ME&L is an acute location where these imbalances play out. For these reasons, researchers and practitioners have developed several M&E or MEL frameworks that seek to ensure more inclusivity and equity. These include locally led and bottom up (Rai & Anderson, 2018) MEL, as well as work on how to integrate both top-down and bottom-up processes (Butler et al., 2015). In addition, new research has provided clarity on how to emphasize and operationalize the addition of learning into M&E, suggesting a framework for learning in order to increase continual reflection on adaptation decisions (Werners et al., 2021).

ME&L Guidance and Additional Resources

There are several resources for developing specific MEL processes specific to climate change adaptation. Most prominently, GIZ has published a guidebook in combination with online trainings which provide a comprehensive introduction to M&E. Other initiatives focused on particular lenses of climate adaptation, e.g. the FEBA network coordinated an M&E Guidebook specifically focused on Ecosystem-based Adaptation. MEL in an adaptaton context, also focuses on initiatives that strengthen ‘adaptive’ capacity at an individual and organisational level (Chaplowe 2023, CADD). GIZ has published the Adaptation M&E Toolbox which is designed to help practitioners design M&E systems at national, project level, and integrated scales. In relation to the development of the Global Stocktake for Adaptation, there is a significant number of global reports compiling experiences and conceptual considerations, such as UNEP DTU Partnership/ Christiansen et al., 2018, GCA/ Leiter and Olhoff, 2019Gao and Christiansen (eds.), 2023).

While most initiatives that PlanAdapt is involved in integrate strong considerations of impact and learning, the depth to which measurement and MEL frameworks and methodologies are being applied varies. The following project and initiatives focused strongly on our MEL competencies: