Visualizing Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning in National Adaptation Planning Processes  

By Emilie Beauchamp, Lead, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning for Adaptation to Climate Change, NAP Global Network, IISD

In the face of rising and unpredictable climate shocks and changes, countries are increasingly preparing National Adaptation Plan (NAP) processes, which include the design and implementation of monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) systems. MEL systems are used to provide a structured approach to monitoring progress, evaluating results, and learning to ensure climate change adaptation strategies are effectively achieving their intended outcomes. Additionally, the importance of national MEL systems for adaptation grows along with the momentum around assessing progress towards achieving the global goal on adaptation.  

As awareness and actions to design and implement MEL systems increase, this blog builds on what the NAP Global Network has learned about effective NAP processes to identify and explain the basics of a MEL system as part of NAP processes. We will delve further into the definition and conceptualization of MEL in a toolkit that will launch in November at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28).  

Building on nine years of experience in advancing NAP processes 

As a core theme of our work at the NAP Global Network, we have worked closely with governments and other actors from 25 countries on an evolving range of MEL topics since 2014. These topics include: designing and revising MEL systems; managing data, information, and knowledge; identifying adaptation indicators; assessing progress and reporting; and learning.  

Under these themes, we have responded to 33 technical support requests, convened seven global and regional peer learning events, and published over 40 knowledge products on MEL over the past nine years. For example, through our support, the Rwandan government collected information on adaptation indicators, reported on progress, and assessed adaptation outcomes in the agriculture sector to improve the next versions of their adaptation plans. 

Caption | Figure 1. The MEL of NAP processes refers to both a distinct phase and a dedicated set of activities throughout the NAP process.
Figure 1. The MEL of NAP processes refers to both a distinct phase and a dedicated set of activities throughout the NAP process.
MEL as a critical piece of the NAP process 

The overarching aim of MEL systems is to inform policies and practices from the data and evidence generated by the iterative process of tracking, assessing, and learning throughout the NAP process. Essentially, information generated from MEL activities produces valuable insights for iterative learning of what works (or not), for whom, and how throughout the NAP process. 

MEL outputs also provide a basis for countries to inform reporting processes under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as part of the NAP process. These include National Communications, Adaptation Communications and Biennial Transparency Reports. They also contribute to reporting under other frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Convention on Biological Diversity.  

The MEL process fosters transparency and trust between different actors. It promotes mutual accountability–both top-down and bottom-up—by creating spaces for dialogues and exchange on the collection, analysis, and interpretation of evidence. Ensuring MEL is well integrated in NAP processes means countries can continuously improve and adapt their climate change adaptation strategies to ensure their effectiveness and equity.

Conceptualizing MEL as part of NAP processes  

MEL activities and processes involve continuous feedback throughout the NAP process to help decision-makers assess and improve interventions based on what has worked, for whom, and how. As such, MEL is both a distinct phase of the NAP process and an ongoing set of activities that are carried on iteratively throughout the other phases of the NAP process.  

The development of a MEL system provides a structured and systematic way of thinking about how to integrate MEL activities at different stages of the NAP process. This can involve defining the MEL system’s purpose and scope, establishing an institutional structure, selecting indicators and data collection methods, identifying evaluation questions, along with specifying learning objectives and reporting mechanisms. A well-designed MEL system must also spell out some of the practicalities of its operationalization, including the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, as well as the resources needed to collect, manage, analyze, and utilize data.  

The steps of designing and implementing a MEL system can be followed in different approaches, depending on the country’s context. Some countries such as Zambia first start by developing an overarching national MEL system that then needs to be broken down further into sector-specific activities. Others start by tackling priority sectors—for example, Namibia focusing on agriculture. MEL systems should always be based on existing systems and practices, link with climate risk assessments, and be grounded in participatory consultations, including vulnerable and marginalized social groups.  

Defining MEL in NAP processes  

As demonstrated in Figure 1, a MEL system has three overarching components that all interact with each other and the NAP process. 

Monitoring is the ongoing collection and analysis of information to track the progress of NAP processes. Monitoring is the systematic gathering of real-time information to check if activities are being carried out as planned, resources are utilized effectively, and progress is being made toward stated goals of the NAP processes. It involves continuous data collection, observation, and documentation to identify trends and any deviations from the planned course to take corrective action when necessary.  

Evaluations occur at strategic points throughout the NAP process to assess the performance of an intervention. While monitoring is a continuous activity, evaluation focuses on the impact of a NAP process at strategic milestones. Monitoring data and information from additional sources is used, such as research results and evidence from civil society and private the private sector, to determine the performance or success of a time-bound intervention, as per its stated goals. Whereas monitoring looks at trends, evaluation involves a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of specific performance-related criteria—such as the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, impact, and sustainability of the initiative. 

While evaluations are often carried out at the end of an intervention, a wide range of different evaluation types can be carried out at strategic moments throughout the NAP process, such as: 

  • before or during the planning stage,  to inform the design and implementation of the NAP process (appraisal and prioritisation assessments);  
  • during an intervention to course correct (mid-term or formative evaluations); and 
  • after an intervention to assess its overall performance (end and impact evaluations).  

Evaluation helps answer questions such as “What are the impacts of our interventions under the NAP process?” and “What could be improved?” 

Progress reporting also plays a critical role in MEL by assessing and communicating progress to date at any stage of the NAP process, drawing from a review of available monitoring and evaluation data.  

Learning is an ongoing process throughout the MEL cycle. In the context of the NAP process, learning is the process of acquiring and sharing new information and knowledge on adaptation leading to changes in beliefs, practices, behaviours, and policies. Monitoring and evaluation should intentionally generate lessons on adaptation—for example, about how, why, and if activities are successfully reducing vulnerabilities to climate change. Learning can also occur outside of MEL activities.  

Learning enables adaptative changes during and between NAP cycles, enabling policy-makers to modify their strategies when evidence about new conditions emerges or when contexts change. We also recognize that learning can (and should) be shared outside of the MEL process.  

NAP processes as ongoing learning processes 

As Figure 1 shows, the purpose of both monitoring and evaluation is to create ongoing learning: this, in turn, builds mutual accountability, improves transparency, and substantiates effectiveness and impact to better achieve NAP processes’ intended goals.  

The success of a NAP process depends on its ability to create and share knowledge that supports learning across multiple actors, sectors, and scales of governance to accelerate the implementation of adaptation actions. This is critical as we face unpredictability in the magnitude and frequency of climate impacts and shocks in today’s world. 

To learn more about our work on monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL), visit our theme page.

What is the National Adaptation Plan Process? View our Frequently Asked Questions.