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M.5 Participatory Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning

Participatory MEAL does not necessarily use different Assessment (chapter  A ), Monitoring M.2 and Evaluation M.3 tools to traditional MEAL. The main difference is that it aims to give communities greater control over the use of the tools and decision making.

Participatory monitoring is the systematic recording and periodic analysis of information collected and recorded by the target population with the help of humanitarian organisations. Its main objective is to provide information to the population so that adjustments and/or modifications can be made jointly between the community and the organisation. The approach has the advantage of allowing the community to react immediately, based on predetermined indicators. For example, a community can monitor the quality of their water source and, based on the results, prioritise corrective actions, undertake simple maintenance and repair work or report problems that require attention. Before engaging in participatory monitoring, the participants should have a clear understanding of why they are doing the monitoring. The information collected should allow everyone to be informed about the progress (or lack of progress) towards planned activities and goals. Participatory monitoring can also feed into participatory evaluation.

Participatory evaluation is an approach that involves the stakeholders of a programme or policy in the evaluation process. People can participate at any stage of the evaluation process, from evaluation design to data collection and analysis and reporting. Participatory evaluation allows the affected populations to understand the factors of success and to identify the barriers to achieving the desired change. The main advantages of participatory evaluation are: (1) access to information that may otherwise be unavailable to communities, (2) participants gain a new understanding of why something did or did not work, facilitating learning for responders and communities, (3) providing an example to people of how to take more control of their lives and (4) encouraging collaborative working. The Most Significant Change T.26 tool is a method for involving stakeholders in ‘searching’ for project impact by identifying stories about change. People meet and hold regular and often in-depth discussions about the value they attribute to the changes and why. 

Participatory accountability refers to a shared understanding of the humanitarian principles, standards and responsibilities underpinning the programme. It also refers to the monitoring and enforcement of appropriate action when agency responsibilities are not met. The community should have a clear understanding of their rights and entitlements from the beginning of the WASH programme, before the feedback and complaints mechanisms (T.13) are jointly developed. Solutions should be agreed jointly with all stakeholders wherever possible.  

Participatory learning is an approach in which all stakeholders, including the affected population, are actively involved in the learning process through a series of activities (which could include a community learning event).

Participatory MEAL is not possible without mutual trust and respect. These develop over time, but it is important to begin with an understanding of the local culture and customs, ensuring that outreach workers have the right skills (and are actively listening) to engage communities within the process. 

Process & Good Practice

  • Begin the participatory evaluation process with an interactive process, such as a facilitated workshop. Aim to reach an agreement on the Terms of Reference and discuss the reasons for Community Engagement (chapter  E ) in the Monitoring M.2 and Evaluation M.3 process, reviewing the benefits and purpose of working together. 

  • Collaborate with different groups in the community to tailor Communication (chapter  C ). For example, consider specific needs such as the monitoring tools and processes for working with children or with marginalised groups to ensure that their views and voices are not left out. 

  • Decide on the level of participation of different stakeholders. Which groups will be involved and what roles will they play? The scope of participation can be broad and include programme staff, community groups and partners, or it can focus on a small number of key groups, depending on the objectives and context.

  • Develop key questions and, where possible, involve women, men, boys and girls in defining the changes they want to see. Ask community members what they hope for when the project is completed. 

  • Establish a range of indicators with the community, asking people to define their interpretation of success. For example, ‘Imagine that the project is finished. How will it affect your life? What will be happening around you?’’ Indicators of change developed by a community may not seem logical or compatible with other programme indicators. However, they offer a means for staff to see the project through the eyes of the affected population and take their experiences and wishes into account.

  • Decide which information-gathering tools are needed (and feasible with the available resources) and explore how the process can be conducted jointly. It may be necessary at this stage to reduce the number of indicators to avoid over-burdening the community. Resources and equipment may be needed, as well as training for some community members.

  • Decide who will do the monitoring and evaluation jointly with the community. Who is responsible for collecting and analysing data and how often?  

  • Review the objectives and activities. This can be carried out as part of a community action plan (i.e. a roadmap that identifies what will be done, who will do it and how). The community action plan becomes a framework for the implementation of WASH activities, the progress of which can then be monitored.

  • Analyse the information collected collaboratively and regularly at pre-arranged times during the programme. The time needed for the analysis will vary according to the context and/or seasonality of activities. Discuss the results jointly and present them to the whole community for further discussion. Different communication methods and tools may be needed in order to reach everyone.



To ensure that men, women, boys and girls affected by a humanitarian crisis are engaged, informed and equipped to take decisions and actions relating to WASH to decrease the risks to their health and dignity.


  • Participatory Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning follows on from participatory assessment and planning (chapter  A ) in the project cycle and fits into the broader scope of community engagement (chapter  E ). It is not restricted to the humanitarian WASH sector and should be designed in collaboration with other agencies and sectors.

  • Participatory MEAL ensures that women, men and children affected by the emergency have opportunities to voice their opinions, influence project design, state what results they want to see and are informed about and can judge the project’s achievements.

  • Hygiene promoters are the front-line workers in the communities and play a key role in participatory monitoring and accountability processes. They need to be skilled and trained to ensure that everyone in the community understands the process and is equally involved. 

  • Participatory monitoring is about involving communities in collecting and recording information as well as involving them in discussing, analysing and using this information as a basis for decision making. 

  • People can still participate, even if access is difficult or unsafe. Steps can still be taken to ensure that communities are not endangered, e.g. protective measures, remote data collection E.10 and appropriate communication strategies (chapter  C ).

  • Involving the communities in Monitoring M.2 and Evaluation M.3 increases their ownership of the programme and the reliability of the information. It is also an opportunity for them to provide feedback and suggestions on how to improve the programme. 


Practical advices and suggestions for managers on issues related to participatory evaluation

USAID (2011): Performance Monitoring and Evaluation. Tips. Conducting a Participatory Evaluation

Information on participatory processes and indicators that can be used to involve community members and other stakeholders

Narayan D. (1993): Participatory Evaluation. Tools for Managing Change in Water and Sanitation World Bank Technical Paper No. 207

How to use the Most Significant Change Approach to Monitoring and Evaluation

Lennie, J. (2011): The Most Significant Change Technique. A Manual for M&E Staff and Others at Equal Access